In 1999, photographer Vincent Giordano made an unplanned visit to the small Kehila Kedosha Janina (KKJ) synagogue on New York’s Lower East Side.
Giordano knew little about Jewish ritual or synagogues, and even less about the Romaniote Jewish tradition of which KKJ is the lone North American representative. In this he was not alone. Romaniotes – those Greek Jews who have maintained traditions dating to the days of ancient Greece and Rome – are among the least known of Jewish communities. Since the Holocaust, when Romaniote communities in Greece were destroyed, KKJ has struggled to maintain the millennia-old traditions. Giordano was inspired by what he saw in the small synagogue, which following Orthodox Jewish practice celebrated the Torah and its teachings through beauty within their sanctuary, not outside. Entering the door of KKJ was for Giordano the entrance into an entirely new and different world.
Beginning in 2001 and guided by members of the KKJ community, Giordano documented the synagogue and its religious art of the congregation using film, video, and audio. Imagining that the congregation would soon disappear, he titled his project Before the Flame Goes Out. Sponsored by the International Survey of Jewish Monuments, the project became an extended exploration not just a building, but of a community and individual lives and stories, including portraiture, oral histories, and documentation of important life cycles, religious, and community rituals and events. Importantly, Giordano realized the history of KKJ is intimately linked to its mother city of Ioannina, Greece, and its small Jewish community. The photographs used in this exhibition, including many taken in Ioannina during the High Holidays in 2006, demonstrate the profound links between these communities. Unfortunately, the full-length documentary Vincent intended to create was not completed before his untimely death in 2010.
In 2019 Hilda Giordano donated the archive of Vincent’s work to Queens College, where it is stewarded by the Hellenic American Project and Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library's Special Collections and Archives. This exhibition is curated by Dr. Samuel Gruber, President of International Survey of Jewish Monuments and designed by Annie Tummino, Queens College Head of Special Collections and Archives. We are thankful for the support of many individuals and organizations who made this exhibition possible.
The photographs are presented in ten thematic sections. Viewers may follow the paths consecutively using the blue buttons at the bottom of each page, or access the table of contents from the header at the top of each page to locate a particular path.