Drawing on his book, Jewish Salonica: Between the Ottoman Empire and Modern Greece, this presentation will explore the fate of the Jews of Salonica (Thessaloniki)--once home to the largest Sephardic community in the world--as they managed the impact of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and their newfound position in the consolidating Greek nation-state during the early twentieth century. Jewish leaders viewed the transition as a move not only from the Ottoman Empire to Greece, but also from the "Orient" to "Europe." In order to accomplish the transition, Jewish leaders had to determine precisely what the Orient and Europe represented.
Strikingly, some even argued that in order for Salonica's Jews to become Greek patriots and true "Hellenes"--which they understood in the classical sense of the term as employed by Enlightenment thinkers--they must become Europeans first, a task accomplished through their acquisition of French culture and made possible due to the decades-long impact of the Paris-based school system run by the Alliance Israélite Universelle. Ironically, Salonican Jewish elite advocated--often in French--that the Jewish masses learn Greek. Such a strategy angered Greek Christian nationalists, who were trying to figure out where on the spectrum between Europe and the Orient their country was situated, whether Jews would be welcome therein, and whether the presence of French culture would be viewed as an asset or an infringement of national sovereignty.