NEW YORK– On June 1, the Honorable Yiannis S. Boutaris, Mayor of Thessaloniki was honored under the auspices of the Consulate General of Greece in New York, the Jewish Museum of Greece, and the American Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece (AFJMG) with the Damaskinos Award. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Geron of America, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America and previous recipient of the Damaskinos Award presented the award to Boutaris. Dr. Mimis Cohen served as Master of Ceremonies for the event at Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City.
This is only the second Damaskinos Award to be presented since the first was given to Archbishop Demetrios in 2007. The award is given to individuals who through their actions and work defend and promote the freedom and coexistence of religions in Greece and Greek-American communities in honor of the courageous Archbishop of Athens Damaskinos who stood against the persecution of the Jews during World War II. His petition to the Prime Minister is a unique historical document and highlights the remarkable courage, dignity, and respect for humanity of Archbishop Damaskinos, inspiring clergy and ordinary citizens to help their persecuted neighbors any way they could.
As Dr. Cohen noted in his presentation on the Archbishop and his efforts to save Greek Jews during the Holocaust, encouraging Christians to hide Jewish families, clergy to issue fake baptismal certificates, and officials to issue identification papers with Christian names saved many lives. Rabbi Martin A. Cohen, the spiritual leader of AFJMG spoke eloquently about the Sephardic Jews and presented two singers, Cantor Inbal Sharett-Singer and Anita Rogers, who both sang Sephardic songs, “reminding us how much culture was lost” when the Jewish community of Thessaloniki was decimated in the Holocaust.
The Consul General of Greece in New York Konstantinos Koutras spoke about Mayor Boutaris and his efforts for tolerance and unity, helping to bring the history of the prosperous, vibrant Jewish community of Thessaloniki to light once again, and fighting against anti-Semitism. Boutaris’ wore the yellow Star of David in response to the election of two members of the Golden Dawn party to the city council of Thessaloniki in a stand against totalitarianism, racism, and exclusion, and as a reminder of the Holocaust.
Makis Matsas, President of the Jewish Museum of Greece, noted that Boutaris’ wise leadership changed the image of the city of Thessaloniki, and the mayor’s courage, ethos, and just initiatives make him an example of an inspired leader, noting how the mayor led the delegation from Thessaloniki at the March of the Living in remembrance of those lost in the Holocaust.
Solomon Asser, President of AFJMG, spoke about how happy he was to finally meet Boutaris after the 18 months it took to bring about the event, remarking that the mayor is “not a politician, he’s a real human being.” Mayor Boutaris in his acceptance speech said how deeply honored he was to receive the award, especially because it is named for Archbishop Damaskinos who was an example to ordinary citizens and saved the lives of those who would otherwise have perished.
Of his own work, the mayor showed his humility, noting that his work was not special, it was his responsibility to those killed unjustly and our duty to remember, since “you cannot build your future, unless you know your past.” Archbishop Demetrios gave the closing remarks, calling Boutaris “an absolutely worthy recipient of the prestigious award,” for his unending effort to connect the community. A reception followed the award presentation.