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

Selichot services

The Selichot are penitential prayers traditionally read in the weeks and days before the High Holidays and during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

In Hebrew, Selichot translates as “forgiveness,” and these prayers emphasis merciful attributes of God.  In many ways, the Selichot service prayers mirror those of Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), the climax of the High Holiday which the Selichot services begin. Different traditions in Judaism recite the Selichot service at different times, but in every case, worshippers implore God’s forgiveness for personal and communal sins committed in the year just ending. 

Because Hazan Haim Ischakis was only conducting services in Ioannina for the three-day period of Rosh Hashanah, he led Selichot services early Friday morning, before the holiday began that evening. Ioannina’s own hazan, the late Samuel Cohen, who was then 82-years-old, assisted Ischakis throughout the holiday. Vincent Giordano joined the congregation at dawn for services. At first there was a small group, but more people joined throughout the early morning. According to Vincent’s notes:

“Due to the hour, it was still dark outside....It was quite an experience to see the sun rise through the large windows of the synagogue as Ischakis sang and chanted...Ischakis’s singing was beautiful.  The service itself was comprised of softly sung prayers and songs and this appealed to me.”

As Vincent Giordano photographed the service, he listened, “the sound was beautiful with a slight echo effect in the very large space.  The acoustics in the synagogue are wonderful to the ear His [Ischakis] voice was fresh and delicate. This would change over the next three days. Ischakis sang each and every service, with only minimal additions from the 82 year-old Samuel Cohen, the cantor of Ioannina.”

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