While its members can’t help but be affected by the seemingly-endless economic gloom that has swept Greece into a storm of political and financial uncertainty, the Mediterranean nation’s Jewish community is moving forward with plans to expand its operations for families in need and visiting tourists.

Chabad-Lubavitch of Athens is set to move its downtown headquarters to a larger location in a more desirable and accessible area of the city next month. Located in the tourist district, the center will house the only kosher restaurant and food store in Greece.

Rabbi Mendel Hendel says the previously-planned expansion will help the center reach out to more Jews in a troubled time. By making more services available to Jewish tourists, the center will also be doing its part in propping up one of the country’s key industries.

“We had a seasonal kosher restaurant that happened to be opened when everybody came here during the 2004 Summer Olympics,” explains the rabbi, “but now, it’s going to be something permanent.”

The restaurant, playing to the ancestry of many of the nation’s Jews, will feature traditional Jewish Greek Sephardic food.

“It is similar to Greek cuisine, but different,” says Hendel. “It will remind people of food their Grandmas used to make. It will offer a different experience for travelers to come and meet the Jewish community and eat our food.”

The larger building will also allow the center to host major events in-house, as opposed to renting out expensive halls in hotels. The new location – far from the center’s current space near Parliament and the frequent riots there – will also allow more people to attend Jewish functions.

Rabbi Mendel Hendel leads a class at Chabad-Lubavitch of Athens.
Rabbi Mendel Hendel leads a class at Chabad-Lubavitch of Athens.

Hendel says having a place to go and recharge will prove refreshing to Jewish Athenians.

Just this week, Prime Minister George Papandreou moved to form a new cabinet in the hope of buying more time to raise money before his country defaults on its sovereign debt. His proposed austerity measures would raise taxes and cut public spending to save $9.1 billion this year. Meanwhile, salaries have been steadily decreasing since the financial crisis began in 2009.

The economic fallout has affected everyone.

“We have more people to help,” says Hendel. “Many are facing difficult times.”

In the face of such hardship, many are also turning to communal pursuits.

“One of the challenges here is that there is no Jewish area,” says the rabbi. “Everyone is spread out and people don’t have so many opportunities to meet each other. This new building will bring everything to one place. I envision it as a lively place where people know they can go to meet friends, hang out and just be together.”