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

Romaniote Jews

Romaniote Jews are among the most ancient extant Jewish communities in the world. 

The largely unknown Romaniote Jews are a living link with ancient Judaism of the Hellenistic period, which formed the matrix out of which Christianity was born and developed and from which came great rabbis and scholars who influenced Jewish life, including R. Tobias ben Eliezer, R. Moses Kapsali and Shemarya Ikriti. 

Romaniotes have their own language--a dialect of Greek that combines words and phrases from Hebrew and Turkish. The Romaniote language is a purely spoken one. There is no literature written in Romaniote and today, Romaniote is spoken only by the older generation and may soon be known only second-hand. 

This tradition flourished and evolved for over one thousand years in the lands of the Byzantine Empire, and particularly in what is now modern Greece. Beginning in the 15th century with the establishment of Ottoman Turkish rule over this territory, and especially after 1492 when large numbers of Sephardi Jews from Spain began to establish themselves under Ottoman rule, the political and religious equation shifted, particularly in larger urban centers where Turkish culture overrode Greek, and where Sephardi Judaism dominated and influenced native Romaniote tradition. Nonetheless, significant traditional Romaniote communities survived in many places, including Ioannina and Arta, until the Holocaust, when tens of thousands of Greek Jews--Sephardi and Romaniote--were deported and murdered by the Nazis and their allies.

In Ioannina, of the 1,960 Jews deported to Auschwitz, only 110 survived. This deadly fate was shared by all the Romaniote communities of Greece, most of which survive today only in memory.

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