We post here a taste of an exhibit of photographs documenting Romaniote Jews in Greece and New York that is being shown at the Greek Consulate in New York, and later at the Greek Embassy in Washington.
Called “Romaniote Memories – a Jewish Journey from Ioannina, Greece to Manhattan, Photographs by Vincent Giordano,” the exhibit runs at the Consulate from September 19th through October 3rd. A lecture and panel discussion on the Romaniote Jews will take place at the Consulate on Thursday, September 26th.
The photographs are part of a multi-media archive, created by Giordano, who died in 2010 at the age of 58, which was sponsored by International Survey of Jewish Monuments. The archive includes portraiture, documentation of art and architecture and important life cycle, religious and community rituals, and events of the congregation on film, video and audio tape. Since June, 2019 it has found a home at the Hellenic American Project and Special Collections at the Library of Queens College, New York.
Giordano’s photographs (and accompanying film clips) document two related communities of Greek Romaniote Jews – in Ioannina, in northwestern Greece and on Broome Street on New York’s Lower East Side.
Giordano’s interest began when he made an unplanned visit to the small Kehila Kedosha Janina (KKJ) synagogue on New York’s Lower East Side in 1999. KKJ, built in 1927, is the lone North American representative of the Romaniote Jewish tradition; its history is intimately linked to its mother city of Ioannina, Greece, and the tiny Jewish community of under 35 members that survives there.
Romaniote Memories includes a suite of photographs taken by Giordano in Ioannina during the High Holidays in 2006, that demonstrate the profound links between these communities.
Romaniote Jews trace their religious and cultural heritage to the Judaism of the ancient Greco-Roman world two-thousand years ago, and these two tiny congregations are among the few remaining to follow these traditions.
Romaniotes have their own liturgy and cultural traditions, as well as their own language, a dialect of Greek that combines words and phrases from Hebrew and Turkish.
Samuel Gruber wrote, in a commemorative essay after Giordano’s death:
Over a period of about six years Vincent created a remarkable series of photos of the [KKJ] building, and many of the people who still call it their religious and cultural home and related community events. What began as a documentation of the synagogue building and its liturgical and historical artifacts evolved into a deeper and more meaningful investigation including photos, film and audio. Vincent found that it was not enough to look at a building without knowing the things inside or to know the objects without understanding their history and use. He believed that knowledge can only come through knowing the people who made these things, and who continue to use and cherish them today.
Similarly, he felt he could not see full picture of this Romaniote community without its other half: the community of Ioannina, or what survives of it in post-Holocaust Greece. So the project which at first was quite modest kept growing. And in this process I was always impressed with Vincent’s adaptability, organization skills, diplomacy, patience, tenacity and overriding belief in the integrity and meaning of the task.