- Jewish Salonica: Between the Ottoman Empire and Modern Greece by Devin E. Naar
If we figuratively transfer ourselves to Salonica (Thessaloniki) at the start of the twentieth century, we would experience a prospering Mediterranean port that was neither a cultural melting pot nor a Greek city of Christian Orthodoxy. Rather, it would exist as a more-or-less peaceful salad bowl of different ethnicities, religions, and languages existing within the prevailing (but certainly declining) Ottoman Empire. In fact, while the social atmosphere during this period consisted of many ethnic and religious groups, they frequently did not intermingle in their personal lives. A power struggle between the various ethnic groups ensued over the course of a long decade of bloodshed between the Balkan Wars (1912–1913), World War I, and the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922), a period usually depicted as a great catastrophe in the official Greek narrative. Nevertheless, this era contributed to the political aims of modern nation-state [End Page 598] building by unmixing the population (Hirschon 2003) and, in particular, by promoting the Greek Orthodox majority in Thessaloniki over time.
This war-stricken period in Jewish Salonica is where Devin E. Naar's narrative begins. A professor of Sephardic studies at the University of Washington, as well as an enthusiastic promoter of Sephardic history, culture, and Judeo-Spanish language, Naar uses his first book to guide us through interwar Salonica up to the Axis Occupation (1941) from the perspective of the local Sephardic community. The connection to the scholarly publications of Mark Mazower and Katherine E. Fleming is obvious. However, unlike Salonica: City of Ghosts (Mazower 2004), which deals with the city's multiple religious communities, Naar almost exclusively tells the story of Jews. Similarly, while Fleming deconstructs the Jewish formation of Greek identity in Greece—A Jewish History (2008), Naar transmits the matter of belonging in the very specific environment of Salonica, called the "Jerusalem of Balkans" by many scholars for its vibrant Jewish life, which might suggest modernization in a Gellnerish way, reinforcing nationalism as a tendency toward unifying ethnic and political territories (Gellner 1983).
As Naar aptly advocates, these processes are not straightforward and do not occur all at once. In the case of the disintegrated Ottoman Empire, which one could argue has similarities to the successor states of Austria-Hungary, the legacy of the previous rule was longstanding in many ways. Based on rich archival sources dispersed around the world in Judeo-Spanish, Greek, Hebrew, and French (the languages of the then Jewish Salonica), he presents a comprehensive history of Salonica's Jewry and introduces us to the communal, religious, and cultural life of the once largest Sephardic settlement in the Balkans. Apart from available archival documentation and newspapers, Naar engages with the research and arguments of Greek and international scholars (most prominently, Rena Molho ), who were audacious enough to challenge the convenient Greek national narrative. Combining original material with current dialogues in the literature to provide fresh insights, Naar places the Jewish (hi)story of Salonica within the broader contexts of Ottoman legislation, contested interreligious relations (for example, on 45–53), and interethnic cohabitation (such as on 282–284).
Opening with a reflection that serves as the introduction's inquisitive title "Is Salonica Jewish?", Naar presents a wide range of assessments on what Salonica meant in the Jewish world from Vladimir Jabotinsky to David Ben-Gurion (2), contextualizing ing these assertions in the Ottoman millet system and its afterlife when the city became "Hellenized" (24–35). Between the lines, he introduces his sources, particularly newspapers, and challenges [End Page 599] some established viewpoints on the accommodation of Greek-Jewish identity. Of great use is the interpretation of citizenship in the face of the separation of church and state, as well as of the Megali Idea (Great idea), which came to a dead end after the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.
The following five interrelated chapters closely present aspects of Jewish life in the city where Naar's grandfather was born and lived...