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Source: Government of Greece

Following the opening of the exhibit “Romaniote Memories – a Jewish Journey from Ioannina, Greece to Manhattan: Photographs by Vincent Giordano” on September 19th, the Consulate General of Greece in New York hosted a panel discussion on Romaniote Jews (September 26) with experts Samuel D. Gruber, President of the International Survey of Jewish Monuments, Cincinnati University Judaic Studies Professor Emeritus Steven B. Bowman, Queens College Sociology Lecturer Nicholas Alexiou and Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos, Museum Director of Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue & Museum.

The topic was the indigenous Jews of Greece, the Romaniotes, who have lived on Greek soil for over 2,300 years and have the distinction of the longest, continuous Jewish presence in the European Diaspora. Historically, these Hellenized Jews have been calling themselves “Romaniotes” since the times when Emperor Constantine the Great moved the capital of Rome from the city of Rome to Constantinople.

The lecture highlighted the history and culture of this unique community, which remains present in many Greek cities. Almost half the Romaniote Jewish Community of the Greek city Ioannina (Janina) immigrated to the United States between 1902 and 1924. Most settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and many managed to remain Greek-speaking. They created a new Jewish life in New York at Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue, built in 1927 and restored in 2007. This Synagogue is now a New York City Landmark.

The photographs exhibited inside the Greek Consulate belong to the late photographer and filmmaker Vincent Giordano. They form part of a bigger project called ‘Before the Flame Goes Out’, a documentary on the Romaniote Jewish Community in the Greek city of Ioannina and in New York. During the Jewish Holocaust, the Romaniote Jews were nearly exterminated. In Ioannina alone, of the nearly 2,000 Jews deported to Auschwitz, only 110 survived. The same happened to other Greek cities with Romaniote population.

The lecture emphasized historical aspects but also ways to ‘keep this flame burning’ as we look in the future. The next step was taken in 2019: The Giordano family donated the archive of Vincent’s work to Queens College, where it is becoming a major part of the Hellenic American Project.

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