While Jews have inhabited the island of Cyprus for over 2,000 years, it is best known in the annals of Jewish history for the internment camps established there by Britain after World War II. Jews trying to enter the Land of Israel against London’s wishes were held in these camps, as famously depicted in the film Exodus. Less well known is the fact that, in 1899, the Third Zionist Congress discussed—and rejected—a proposal to establish a temporary Jewish state in Cyprus. Joel Rappel surveys the history of Jews on the island during the past century-and-a-half:
Hidden within a closed-off area on the Turkish side of the island, ten kilometers south of the Nicosia airport, lies one of the most intriguing tales of Jewish settlement. In this military zone, where stern Turkish soldiers prohibit any visits or tourism, the settlement of Margo was established in 1897. While it wasn’t the first Jewish settlement attempt on the island, it was the most substantial. The community, before the outbreak of World War I, consisted of approximately 138 Jewish residents. The agricultural settlements of the Jews, who arrived in Cyprus in 1883 concurrently with the pioneers of the First Aliyah in Israel, are tied to the transfer of Cypriot rule in 1873 from the Ottoman empire to British imperial control. . . .
In 2003, the Jewish community on the island numbered between 300 and 400 individuals. However, two decades later, the Jewish population, predominantly Israelis, exceeds 12,000. The current monthly growth rate is around 250 to 300 individuals, meaning more than 3,000 Israelis annually relocate to Cyprus.
In every conversation with an Israeli in Cyprus, you’ll hear the phrase, “Cyprus is just like Israel, only a 40-minute flight away.”
Who are these thousands of Israelis who have permanently relocated to Cyprus? I pose this question to the local chief rabbi Aryeh Raskin, and to the director of the Jewish community, Rabbi Levi Yudkin. Raskin responds, “Primarily those who can work from home.”