May 18, 2011

A wide social class spectrum

A Jewish porter (χαμάλης, hamalis) at work
Since the arrival of the Sephardi Jews from Spain (and later from Portugal and other European kingdoms) the Jewish community of Thessaloniki (Salonika in the Ottoman Empire) became in a few years the majority of the population of the city, often comprising 50% or even more of the city's people. The community became the driving force of the economy of the city and turned Salonika in one of the most important commercial centers of the Empire (and not only). It is interesting that throughout the centuries the Jews of the city where occupying all social classes. 

From poor porters (χαμάληδες, hamalides), mine workers and lemonade sellers, to various craftsmen and merchants, to bankers (σαράφηδες, sarafides), people dealing with insurances and credit notes and to the educated and rich families who owned factories and industries (textiles was a very successful business, also ceramics and other industrial products in the era of modernization) and of course the influential Rabbis. Something that shows the confidence and the importance of the community is the fact that in 1562 they sent representatives to the sultan to ask for a tax relief (in other circumstances that could have cost their heads).

A Jewish aristocrat
The majority of the population however, was poor and uneducated and lived in the center of the city under bad conditions in overpopulated, dirty, noisy and crowded districts. Thus, it is not strange that these numerous workers will play a significant role in the labour movements of the beginnings of the 20th century and the social fight for better working conditions.

A lemon seller

First two pictures:  "Οι Εβραίοι της Θεσσαλονίκης: μέσα από τις καρτ-ποστάλ, 1886-1917", Κωστής Κοψίδας.
The 'lemon seller' is from wikipedia.

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