Romaniote Memories: A Jewish Journey from Ioannina, Greece to Manhattan: Photographs by Vincent Giordano

Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue

Kehila Kedosha Janina, located on Broome Street on the Lower East Side of New York City, is the only remaining Romaniote Synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.

The congregation (Kehila) was founded in 1906 by a group of Greek-Jewish immigrants from the town of Ioannina (Janina) in northern Greece. For many years they worshiped in private homes or attended other synagogues in the area, but in 1927 there were sufficient congregants to warrant the building of a synagogue to follow the Romaniote minhag (rite) and help maintain Romaniote cultural and religious identity in the New World. 

Kehila Kedosha Janina (KKJ) is housed in a small building that combines elements of Classical and Moorish architecture, using the three-bay wide style prevalent among New York City synagogues of this period. The two-story building is constructed of buff-colored brick with cast stone detailing with a modest peaked parapet that subtly creates the effect of corner towers. Moorish influence can be seen in the cast stone cusped arch over the front entrance. In addition, traditional Jewish motifs were incorporated in the cast stone tablets of the Ten Commandments placed above the entrance and stained-glass windows.

KKJ is somewhat unusual for a Romaniote synagogue in that it runs north south with the ehal (holy ark) on the north side. Romaniote synagogues typically run east to west, but the availability of real estate affordable to the young congregation would have been a determinant in the location and orientation.

Today, the congregation of Kehila Kedosha Janina is small, but it maintains a vital presence on the Lower East Side and well beyond. The building is listed on both the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places and was designated a New York City landmark in April 2004. In 2007 it was beautifully conserved – maintaining all the details of its warm and welcoming interior. These include the two-story Aron ha-Kodesh (ehal) where the Torah scrolls are stored in wood and metal cases, known as tiks, and the platform and table to which the Torahs are carried and read to the congregation. Traditionally the Torah is read three days a week with a minyan (ten Jewish men over the age of 13), including on the Sabbath (Saturday) as well as on holidays. Today, because the congregation is so small, services are only held on Saturday. Hanging lamps, many of them commemorating deceased congregants, fill the space. 

Men gather for prayer in the main sanctuary space, while women ascend another flight of stairs and participate from the gallery which wraps around three sides of the space. It is typical in the fact that men and women sit separately (a feature of all Orthodox synagogues). Today, there is also a museum exhibit in the women’s section. Exhibited items are housed in cases along the walls on either side behind the seats, as well as in the area immediately in front of the staircase. The synagogue and museum are usually open to visitors on Sundays.

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