Ashkenazi Jews. Sephardi Jews. Ever heard about Romaniote Jews?
Marjorie Ingall of Tablet Magazine visited Kehila Kedosha Janina, a small synagogue on the Lower East Side that is the only Romaniote synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. Romaniote Jews, according to their oral tradition, “descend from Jews who were put on a slave ship to Rome after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE; a storm grounded the ship in Greece, and there they stayed for 2000 years.”
Their culture thrived in Greece and they even developed their own language Yevanic, a mixture of Greek, Hebrew and Turkish. Eventually the majority disappeared into the fabric of Sephardic Jews when those Jews were exiled from Spain and came to Greece. However one small Jewish community in Janina remained isolated and preserved their Romaniote heritage. Emigrants founded the congregation in New York during the early 20th century. Those Romaniote Jews that remained in Janina didn’t fair too well as “nearly 90% of Greek Jews died in the Holocaust, the largest percentage of any European country in WWII.”
The Romaniote Jews that Ingall spoke to stated that they have a close relationship with their homeland and still visit for milestones. The article concludes with a moving statement from one of the congregants:
“I’d like the world to know how very special this community is. It’s absorbed the true essence of Judaism—knowing who we are and passing it on to our children and grandchildren. We’ve preserved this older world and still take advantage of the wider world.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.