Most of us are accustomed to making winter vacations at the Dead Sea or in warm Eilat. But recently, a vacation in Cyprus is becoming a much more attractive alternative. The weather in Cyprus is similar to ours, and so is the duration of the flight and the landscapes. But, prices in Cyprus are much cheaper compared to Eilat.
The prices of flights to Cyprus are very low following the open skies policy. TusAir offers a flight starting only $79, and Ryanair is going to sell airline tickets at only $49. Flying to Cyprus is about half the price of a flight to Eilat. Prices for hotels in Cyprus are also low compared to Eilat. For example, about a month ago we stayed at Paphos at the luxury hotel Almyra, that came with a free spa and indoor heated pool, and the price for three nights is similar to the price of one night in a 5-stars hotel in Eilat.
Although the Vacation in Cyprus passes through the passport control and there is a duty-free, from a halachic point of view, Cyprus is not entirely "abroad". In the Mishnaic period, they referred to Cyprus as the Land of Israel, and every day in our morning prayers we say "Pitum HaKtoret", which also includes "Cyprus wine". It is inconceivable that in the Temple they used non-kosher wine.
The Rambam rules a Psak Din that for issues like Kidush Hachodesh and Ma'aser Cyprus is a part of Erets Yisrael. The Gemara in Gittin (page 8a) refers to the western boundary of the Land of Israel with regard to the "first sanctity", and Rashi in his commentary draws a line that includes Cyprus as well.
Indeed, Cyprus has a rich Jewish history. During the Second Temple period, a large Jewish community lived on the island, and in some archeological sites, coins were minted by the Hasmoneans in Eretz Israel, which included a jar and vessels from Eretz Yisrael. Columns of synagogues were found in the villages of Golgavi and Lapithos. In 138 BC, the Roman Senate sent a letter to its representatives in Cyprus to ensure they treated the Jews decently. 250 years later, in 116 CE, there was a local revolt against the Romans in which Jews also participated. The revolt failed, and the Roman commissioner ordered to kill all the Jews on the island.
Since then, there have been several waves of Jewish settlements in Cyprus. In 1571, the Turks conquered the island and settled wealthy Jewish families from Safed and Greece. Since then, there has been a place in Famagusta called "The Bridge of the Jews". Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi wrote his famous book "Yosef Lekach" in Famagusta, before he became the rabbi of Prague. At the end of the 19th century, PICA established three Jewish agricultural settlements that had been abandoned previously. In 1902, Herzel presented a plan for the establishment of Jewish colonies in Cyprus, which was about two years before the 'Uganda Plan'.
However, in the history of Judaism in Cyprus, the period between 1946 and 1949 was particularly memorable, since it was when the British deported Jewish immigrants 'Maapilim' from Israel, and interned them in detention camps in Cyprus. Some 52,000 illegal immigrants were interned in 12 camps where they tried to maintain a community life. My mother was one of them. There were many letters of questions in Halakha that the detainees wrote to rabbis in Israel, and they had to pass the British censor in order to be sent. In 1947, Rabbi Yehoshua Mendel Ehrenberg came from Israel and organized the Rabbinical Committee in the camps that dealt with religious matters, founded rabbinical courts, and especially solving big problem of 'Agunot'- single women, which couldn't remarry because they didn't have proof that their old husbands died during the holocaust.
From the rich Jewish past of Cyprus, there was hardly any trace left, but a few old gravestones in museums, and two memorials for the immigrants. One gravestone is in Nicosia in a military base, where there is a military hospital where Jewish women of camps were taken to give birth. Entrance to the base is conditional upon prior coordination. The second gravestone is located in the village of Ksylatymbou, in fields where four detention camps were established. In this village, there were good people who helped Jews in the camps, especially those who managed to escape from detention. The monument was established at the initiative of Mrs. Poli Spiro, who investigated the refugee camps, and with exciting stories she heard from the elders of the village. Luisa Várakles of the Cyprus embassy in Tel Aviv says she heard about her intention to build a museum in order to commemorate the camps.
Even in the winter, there is something to see and to do in Cyprus. The coastal cities have a promenade, as well as wonderful bathing places and marinas. The interurban roads are relatively narrow, with citrus groves reminiscent of the outskirts of Bney Brak a generation ago. In the Troodos Mountains, we can see picturesque villages, with hiking trails, olive presses, and wineries that still produce oil and wine using ancient methods. At the top of the Troodos, there is plenty of snow in the winter, which attracts ski enthusiasts.
Cyprus has a wealth of historical sites, most of them churches and other places connected with the Crusades to the Land of Israel, and there are beautiful mosaics in Paphos.
Aya Napa in the south east of the island is considered a lively recreation center that attracts young people from all over the world. The goddess of love, APHRODITE, was born there. Most of the people are speaking English and welcome tourists, and almost every city has a tourist information center that give information to sites and events in the area.
For travelers in Cyprus, it is very easy to get kosher food. At the Jewish community center in Larnaca, there is a meat chef's restaurant, Sambatyon, which also provides catering to all the hotels on the island. You should know that the catering is at the hotel's expense when you're booking full-board. And half-board customers pay for the food themselves. In the community building, there is also a dairy café with pastries and sandwiches. At the Chabad House in Larnaca, there is a kosher mini market for food products from Israel, with a large selection of canned goods and bags, which take into account the needs of kosher tourists.
The Chief Rabbi of Cyprus, Rabbi Aryeh Raskin, invites my blog readers to eat and pray in Cyprus, in Larnaca, Nicosia,Limassol, and in the summer Chabad House that also operates in Aya Napa for the younger population.
- On organized trips, make sure to ask the guide to take you to the memorial to the illegal immigrant camps in Ksylatymbou, or go there independently on your own, since it is only about 20 minutes north of Larnaca.
- For independent vacationers, you may want to hire a private tour guide, since this service is not expensive.
- The Cypriots are very proud of the island's Christian history, and its many boutique wineries. It is advisable to tell the guide in advance that we do not want to visit many churches, nor taste wines in the small wineries.