The Jews of Ioannina


Oral tradition in loannina maintains that the first Jews who settled in the
 area did so in 70 CE, after the destruction of the Second Temple in 
According to the tradition, the Roman emperor Titus, after capturing Jerusalem 
in September 70, was transporting many jews to Rome as slaves when his ship 
was driven by a storm onto the Albanian coast. 
Instead of throwing his captives into the sea, he allowed them to disembark,
 and they eventually made their way  to the area in which loannina later was
Rae Dalven

   According to an old tradition, there was a jewish community in Janina as
 early as the ninth century; the archaic Greek spoken by the jewish 
inhabitants suggests that this may be true. The janina community is the
 largest and most representative Romaniote Greek jewish community,whose
 members are descendants of the Greek Jews living in the Byzantine Empire. 
The jews of janina reigned over the now extinct jewish communities in Arta, 
Preveza, and Parga.
During the first half of the 13th century the town was part of the despotate
 of Epirus and the jewish community suffered from persecutions. 
Jewish serfs are mentioned in two bulls, dated 1319 and 1321 respectively,
 issued by Emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus (1282-1328).
 During his reign the emperor placed the Jews under his direct protection. 
In 1431 when  the town was taken by the Turks, there was a sizable Jewish
 community which continued to grow  in succeeding generations. When jewis
 refugees from Spain settled there, they assimilated into the local Romaniote
 population and adopted their Greek dialect. There were two synagogues, 
one known as the "old community", the other as the "new". In 1612 the Jews
 were falsely  accused of having handed Bishop Dionysios, the leader of a
 revolt, over to the Turkish  authorities,who executed him. Ali Pasha, who 
as governor of the area from 1788 to 1822, imposed a heavy tax burden on 
the wealthy Jews.In 1821 when the Greek rebellion broke out, some jews 
found refuge in Janina.
In 1872 there were anti-Jewish riots in the town. In 1919 the jewish
 population was 3,000, and on the eve of the Holocaust it was 1,950. 
On March 25, 1944,1,860 Jews were seized by  the Nazis and deported to 
 In 1948 there were 170 jews living in the town,  and by 1967 their number
 had dwindled to 92. By the 1990's only approximately 45 remained.
  In the past Janina Jews maintained trade relations with Europe and the 
East, and also engaged in silk weaving and the manufacture of scarves, veils
 and silver belts; there were also goldsmiths, dyers, glaziers, tinsmiths,
fishermen, and coachmen among them.
The jewish quarter is located within the walls of the old city. it includes 
the area to the right of Joseph Eliyia Street. It was also named 
"Megali Rouga", which means "Big Road".
 The old synagogue within the fortress walls is preserved by loanniote jews 
from around the world.
janina (French spelling) is also spelled loannina (purist Greek), Yannina
 (Demotic Greek) and Yanya (Turkish).
kahal     Kadosh   Yashan
Janina  (Ioannina)
Oral history claims that Jews inhabited the Epirus area from the period just after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 7OCE. The earliest documented evidence of a Jewish presence in janina is recorded from the 9th century. When Sephardim arrived after the expulsion from Spain, there was so much friction with the Romaniote community that the original community petitioned the high rabbi in Constantinople to forbid other jews from settling or doing business in janina. The original synagogue just within the fortress walls was built in the 17th century. Kahal Kadosh Yashan was built on the same site in 1829. The wall and gate surrounding the building and its courtyard were built in the late 19th century. The Romaniote building has some typical features: An arbor was naturally built in the courtyard as a supporting frame for a Sukkah; the ehal is on the east wall with the bimah on the west; women had an outside entrance to the balcony; the seating arrangement is along the central axis, east-west. During the German occupation the synagogue was turned into a municipal library. Much of the synagogue's artifacts were hidden in a crypt until the war was over. A second synagogue, Kahal Kadosh Hadash, was built in 1841 as the jewish community expanded outside the castro. The Nazis turned that into a stable and it was razed around the end of the war. Most of the remaining Jewish population resides in the building constructed on the site on Joseph Eliyia Street. Kehia Kedosha janina and Bet Abraham and Ohel Sarah each have a torah donated by the janina jewish community. Kehila Kedosha Janina New York City
At the turn of the century, a group of our parents and grandparents began to emigrate to the United States. In 1906, they organized themselves by forming a minyan group to perpetuate their heritage and traditions. The second important facet to the community was a burial society. The congregation was called Kehila Kedosha janina, so named after the town of loannina in Greece, from whence they came. The benevolent society was originally called Society of Love and Brotherhood. The Kehila still bears its original name and the benevolent society is now known as the United Brotherhood/Good Hope Society of Janina. After many years of conducting services in temporary facilities, Joseph I. josephs, the founder of our Kehi Ia, with the financial support of the community, finally found and built the permanent synagogue at its current address. There are elements of Romaniote and Sephardic background in the building, yet it's polar-axial is north-south and not the traditional east-west. (That may have been a prior restriction because the lot is narrow east-west) The bimah facing the ark from a center position is Sephardic. The seats running parallel along the sides of the bimah is reminiscent of the Janina synagogue. The women's section taking up three sides of the balcony is Romaniote. The torahs are encased in ornate olive wood or metal tiks, distinctly Romaniote. One originally was brought as a gift from Janina(another Sefer Torah from janina is in the jerusalem Synagogue.) The years from 1927 to the beginning of World War II were the most successful for the Kehi Ia. There were three rabbis conducting services: jessula Mordechai Levy, Simon Menachem Asser and Jessula Moshe HaCohen The services drew a goodly crowd so much so that during the high holy days it was standing room only. After the war, however, there was an exodus to the other boroughs and Long Island and membership dwindled. But, there was an influx of new immigrants who came to our shores after surviving World War II and the Holocaust, who helped augment our congregation once again. Kehila Kedosha Janina is still a functioning synagogue. In fact, the ONLY one conducting services in the Greek/Judeo minhag in the country. Services, are held every Saturday morning and all holidays. Without a rabbi, the congregation, led by President Hy Genee, conducts its own service. As the Romaniote community expanded, a minyan spread to Harlem and later, a synagogue to The Bronx. In Brooklyn, the Sephardic Jewish Center synagogue in the Maplewood section was opened by Romaniotes. Both synagogues have since closed. The Holocaust and Greek Jewry
Greece did not necessarily want to enter the war, but with the incursion of Italy into Epirus from Albania in 1940, the country had no choice. President Metaxa's famous "Oxi", no, became the rallying cry to push the Italians back into their own province and became the main reason for Germany's attack. Swooping through Yugoslavia in ten days, it took a month to overwhelm Greece. The Country was split into three areas. Germany took Macedonia, including Salonica, and the very Eastern part of Thrace, some of the Northern islands, Crete, and coadministered Athens with Italy. Most of Thrace and part of Macedonia was ceded to Bulgaria, while the rest of Greece came under Italian control. While Italy remained in the war, its Jews were relatively safe. It was another story in the Bulgarian and German sectors. In trying to "Bulgarize" the sector, Jews in that section had a choice to renounce their faith or face expulsion. Most chose the latter. (Many of the Jews in Bulgaria itself were saved which is an irony in itself.) On the night of March 3, 1943, 4,200 Jews in the Bulgarian sector were rounded up and sent to Kavala. From there they were transported through Gorna Dzhumaya to Lom, Bulgaria, put on boats headed up the Danube to Vienna, where they were transferred to German authority. Final destination: Treblinka. The Germans, between March 15, 1943, and the end of August, 1943, decimated the Jewish population in their sector including the approximately 56,000 living in Salonica. From the Baron Hirsch Concentration Camp, the railway route led to Vienna as well. The jews of the Italian zone fared better until Italy surrendered in September of 1943. It was then that the complete extermination of Greek Jewry began its final phase. March 25 (Greek Independence Day) 1944 is remembered quite vividly by the jews of Athens and most all of the provincial towns formally administered by Italian forces. Most Jews were sent to the Haidari Concentration Camp in Athens and by rail north to Auschwitz. Others from janina went through Trikkala to Larissa and then north by rail to the same destination. The 20-day trip from Corfu (roundup in June of 1944) was by boat and rail and in some areas like Zakinthos, most of the jews were saved by righteous, yet the community was completely devastated by earthquakes in the 1950's. Athens gained in numbers after the war as victims returned to the capital. The total statistics vary. Some sources say that 89% of all Greek Jews perished. The statistics posted in the janina jewish community office are slightly different since they hadn't included some of the cities. The Greek Language Although Greek was spoken in the synagogue outside of the actual service which was in Hebrew, a judeo-Greek language had evolved where: 1)Many Hebrew words had Greek endings ie: Chanukkah was the root for Chanukaria (menorah) and chanukaria (candles). 2)It contains elements of Aramaic and later, Turkish. 3)It was written with Hebrew characters. During the Nazi occupation of Greece, some Jews communicated with each other in Judeo-Greek as a protective measure. Romaniote jews, post World War II, spoke standard Greek with a Hebrew influence. There are several collections of judeoGreek hymns one of which is "Yanniotika Evraika Traghoudhia" compiled by Joseph Matsas. Below are some views of our Synagogue and Museum, (the only Romaniote Synagogue in America). 1) An Outside View 2) The Ark, and the Ten Commandments 3) A view of the Ark.


                       Kehila Kedosha Janina
                       Synagogue and Museum

        PRESS RELEASE	                      CONTACT: ISAAC DOSTIS
       IMMEDIATE RELEASE                        MUSEUM COORDINATOR
        NOVEMBER 25,1997	                  (212) 431-1619

Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum presents Michael Matsas,
 survivor of the Greek Holocaust, and author of THE ILLUSION OF SAFETY
 at a lecture and book signing ceremony to be held at the Synagogue 
(The Only Romaniote Synagogue in America) on Sunday, January 18,1998 
at 3:30 p.m. The Synagogue/Museum is located at 280 Broome Street 
(off Allen Street) on the Lower East Side of New York. Admission is 
by contribution.

 Michael Matsas was born in loannina, Greece, in 1930. His father was
 transferred from loannina, to Arta, to Preveza, and finally to 
 The immediate family survived in Agrinion, while 89% of all Greek Jews
 perished at the hands of the Nazis.

 THE iLLUSION OF SAFETY recounts Matsas' life as a hidden child, his
 experiences helping the resistance, and equally important, his 
exploration of State Department and OSS war time reports exposing 
the hypocrisy that ignored the already sealed fate of the Greek Jews
 transported to the concentration camps.
  People know little of the Holocaust that engulfed Greece. 
THE ILLUSION OF SAFETY adds to the body of literature of this 
undertold story. Books will be available for purchase.

  Mr. Matsas will also be part of the Sephardic House's celebration 
of Greek-Judaic culture to be held at the Spanish-Portugese Synagogue 
over the weekend of January 1 6-18. It includes Friday night dinner 
with Rabbi Marc Angel; music of Joe Elias; an exhibit of Salonica 
synagogues; a panel discussion of Jewish life in Greece, various 
speakers; and tours of theKehila Kedosha Synagogue/Museum and the
Tenement Museum. 
 For more information, please call Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue
                  and Museum at (212) 431-1619.

            Kehila  Kedosha  Janina
            Synagogue and Museum
             280  Broome st.
            New York, ny 10002

            Mailing Address
            Cooper Station.Po Box 240
            New York,NY 10276