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Greek Jewish Cemetery Damaged by Storm

A massive winter storm toppled trees and caused significant damage to the historic Jewish cemetery in the northern Greek city of Ioannina.

The storm over the weekend uprooted several trees, crushing about 20 gravestones and destroying the flagstone path that leads into the cemetery, said Allegra Matsa, one of the Ioannina Jewish community leaders.

Three trees also fell on the city’s synagogue, but caused only minor damage, she added.

Ioannina has traditionally been the main center for Greece’s Romaniote Jews, a unique Jewish tradition, whose roots in Greece date back some 2,300 years.

The cemetery was established in the1920’s, but includes gravestones that were transferred there from earlier cemeteries that were destroyed by the Ottomans and the Greeks, some more than 500 years old.

The Jewish community of Ioannina numbered about 4,000 at the start of the 20th century but had dwindled to about 2,000 at the start of World War II.

The Nazis deported the city’s Jews to death camps in 1944 and only 112 survived. Today the Jewish community has fewer than 50 members.

Many of the destroyed gravestones belong to people with no living heirs, requiring the Jewish community to raise funds to repair them, said Matsa.

The Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue in New York, the only Romaniote synagogue in the United States, is raising money to help with the repairs.

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