Rachel’s Road to Rhodes
Simcha SpotlightBat Mitzvah

Rachel’s Road to Rhodes

The Blumenthal family celebrated Rachel’s bat mitzvah in the Old Jewish Quarter of Rhodes, Greece.

After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip).

(Left to right) Brother Michael, mom Renay and dad Ned Blumenthal (far right) expressed their admiration for Rachel’s kindness and love of family tradition.
(Left to right) Brother Michael, mom Renay and dad Ned Blumenthal (far right) expressed their admiration for Rachel’s kindness and love of family tradition.

Move over “Mama Mia!” On June 1, Renay and Ned Blumenthal hosted a group of 24 in Rhodes, Greece, at the Kahal Shalom Synagogue in the old Jewish Quarter, to celebrate the bat mitzvah of their daughter, Rachel Devorah.

Rhodes was once home to many Sephardic Jews, including Rachel’s maternal great-grandparents, who were married at Kahal Shalom in October 1919, prior to immigrating to the U.S. Their parents and grandparents were all born and lived in Rhodes, descendants of those who had fled the Spanish Inquisition centuries earlier.

Both grandmothers traveled to Greece and placed the tallis around Rachel. The tallis belonged to Rachel’s great-grandfather, who was married in the same synagogue.

“It had incredible meaning for the entire family for Rachel to become a bat mitzvah at the same synagogue where her great-grandparents were married and where other family members for several generations prior to that worshipped,” recalled Renay. “She wore her great-grandfather’s tallis and her great-grandmother’s Star of David necklace. The synagogue has been beautifully restored and maintained in the last several years, a true testament to the strength and resilience of the Jewish people.”

Rachel joyfully carried the Torah scroll.

Kahal Shalom, built in 1577, is the oldest surviving synagogue in Greece and the last functioning congregation on the island of Rhodes. It is located in La Juderia, the former Jewish Quarter, which was occupied by the Nazis in September 1943.

In July 1944, the Jews of Rhodes and Kos were deported to the Greek mainland. Twenty-three of them died during the voyage, while those who survived were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Only 151 survived the Holocaust.

Rachel, a student at The Galloway School, loves traveling, volleyball, musical theater and drama, and attends Camp Barney Medintz. She is also interested in family tradition. “My bat mitzvah was cool because I got to be in the same synagogue that my great-grandparents were married in, to see and understand where they were from,” she said. “It made me feel very connected to my family history.”

Rabbi Barbara Aiello, who officiated at the ceremony, had prepared Rachel through Zoom sessions with the help of her tutor, Rachel Jenks, in the months leading up to her service. Rabbis Brad Levenberg and Sam Trief from Temple Sinai also helped Rachel with her parsha, B’midbar. In her d’var Torah, she spoke about Aaron’s sons’ lack of faith, her interpretation being the respect for wisdom and listening to others. The ceremony was livestreamed for family members back in the U.S.

The Kahal Shalom Synagogue in Rhodes is on the World Monuments Fund Watch’s list of 100 Most Endangered Sites. The synagogue was built in 1577 and is closely tied to Rachel Blumenthal’s Sephardic ancestors.

For her service project, Rachel elected to help Holocaust survivors through Holocaust Survivors Support Fund. Since Rhodes was so devastated by the Nazis, she dedicated her ceremony to a young Jewish girl who lived in Rhodes but perished in the Holocaust without the chance to become a bat mitzvah. Rachel sent baskets of hamantaschen to survivors, followed by food gift cards.

For the ceremony, Rachel wore a royal blue dress with eyelet trim to match her family, all of whom wore something accented with blue. Older brother Michael read a passage from Shel Silverstein’s “A Light in the Attic.” It was very special that both of Rachel’s grandmothers — Martha Perlmutter, whose parents, Nissim and Reina Almeleh, were from Rhodes and Linda Blumenthal — were able to attend.

A plaque honoring all of the families in Rhodes that were deported during the Holocaust.

During the service, Renay spoke of Rachel’s love of family and tradition, explaining that they chose Rhodes as a place that had such deep meaning and family ties. “We walked to the synagogue for her service through the old Jewish Quarter,” Renay recalled, “as we were walking down the same streets they walked and felt a part of what had been their community — and how the entire experience was the true meaning of l’dor v’dor. We also talked about how proud she was to honor her ancestors in this way.”

Ned Blumenthal echoed the sentiment. “Rachel is particularly kind and caring to everyone. Our wish for her is to always be kind and work hard, and embrace and be involved with family, friends and community,” he said.

Rabbi Barbara Aiello (right) Zoomed with Rachel prior to the onsite

Since the service began at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday night, it was followed by a traditional Greek dinner at Hatzikelis restaurant. The Sephardic menu was a traditional Greek meal with tzatziki, fava bean and hummus dips with village-made pita, Greek salad, spinach pie, stuffed mushrooms with feta, parsley, onion and olive oil and grilled eggplant for appetizers.

Guests had a choice of grilled fish, Greek roasted chicken, or stuffed tomatoes and peppers with rice as entrée. Dessert was kataifi, a sweet, traditional Greek pastry with nuts and honey. Spirited Greek music filled the restaurant. That morning, all of the attendees did a guided tour of the synagogue, the Jewish Museum and the Jewish Quarter.

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