Preserving History: The Jews of Greece

Published March 27, 2008, issue of April 04, 2008.
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The Romaniote Jews are said to be vanishing, but photographer Vincent Giordano is dedicated to preserving their history before it drifts away. Their fading legacy is captured by Giordano in Before the Flame Goes Out, an exhibition that explores two small communities rooted in ancient traditions.

SNAPSHOT: Vincent Giordano photographed Romaniote Jews in Greece and in New York. Above, images of worshippers in Ioannina, Greece, in 2006 and 2007.
SNAPSHOT: Vincent Giordano photographed Romaniote Jews in Greece and in New York. Above, images of worshippers in Ioannina, Greece, in 2006 and 2007.

There were large groups of Romaniotes living in Greece and its neighboring territories some 2,000 years ago. During the early 20th century, many immigrated to France, Palestine, the United States and South America for economic reasons, and 85% of the Jews who remained in Greece were killed during World War II.

The Romaniotes’ religious rituals and customs are distinct from those of Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews, and Yevanic, a dialect of Greek that incorporates Hebrew and Turkish words, is the language spoken by these Jews.

Giordano documented the only Romaniote synagogue in North America, Kehila Kedosha Janina on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and the Jewish community in Ioannina, Greece, which claims a mere 35 members.

“In this case, what is disappearing and dwindling are the remnants of a major branch of Judaism,” Giordano said. “What we’re looking at here is not just a neighborhood synagogue in danger.”

The exhibit, currently on display at the Museum of Biblical Art, features some 40 works, including portraits of individuals and images of life cycle, religious and community events.

MOBIA, 1865 Broadway (at 61st St.); through July 13. (212-408-1500 or

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