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


Vincent Giordano photographed many gatherings of the Kehila Kedosha Janina community. Perhaps none were as joyous as the Bar Mitzvah of Seth Kofinas in June 2007.  

Seth, who is today a grown man, is a member of the third generation of the Kofinas family active at Kehila Kedosha Janina (KKJ). In Judaism, the celebration of a Bar Mitzvah, when a boy of thirteen officially becomes a member of the community, is among the most important life cycle events. On this occasion the boy becomes a man – at least in the sense that his presence can help make the minyan required for reading the Torah, reciting Kaddish, and other prayers. In Jewish tradition, the boy-man is now dons tefillin at morning prayers, and he can read from the Torah, both tasks performed by Seth Kofinas. 

Seth’s great-grandparents Chaim and Rachel Kofinas had been married in the synagogue in Ioannina, before moving to Athens. They and two of their children will killed in the Holocaust.  Their two sons Zino and Sol, however, survived as hidden children in Athens.  Sol, who is Seth’s grandfather, emigrated in 1956 to the United States where he became an active member of KKJ where he has served as Gabbai for more than twenty years, assisting the running of services. Sol has lived on the Lower East Side for more than a half century where with his wife Koula he has raised his two children.

Sol’s son Chaim, who celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at KKJ, is now the Hazan (prayer leader) of the congregation. He learned the unique Romaniote liturgy and piyutim (religious poems) from previous community leaders and scholars. Together with Seth, Chaim led the services at the Bar Mitzvah.  The event was held on a Sunday to allow more people to travel and attend, and this also allowed Vincent to photograph the service and the celebration. We thank the Kofinas family for their support and their readiness to allow the sharing of these photos.

In July 2007, the family and many congregation members traveled to Ioannina where the Bar Mitzvah was reprised in the ancestral synagogue. 

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