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04 March 2016

Romaniote Jews of Janina (Ioannina), Greece

In a past article in this blog, I have written about the Jewish community of  Kastoria in Greece. These people were famous for the work as furriers. In the last few months I have been researching some Jewish families of Greek heritage who settled in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York in the first part of the 20th century. 

As I began to research these families something became very apparent to me. This group had a very strong connection one to another. This was much more than the connection we would have today with our neighbors, to them it seemed as if everyone was family. These were the Romaniote Jews of Ioannina, Greece, which is located in the Northwest part of Greece.
 Romaniote Jews had lived in Greece and neighboring countries for over 2,000 years. Local tradition states that the first Jews into Ioannina arrived shortly after the destruction of the Second Temple in  70CE. These Jews were neither Ashkenazim or Sephardic but had their own traditions.
As I began the search, I quickly discovered that most of the families who left Ioannina, did so because they were looking for a new life in America. A large amount of the families had someone who left between 1904 and 1920 headed for New York City.
This people didn't just come one at a time, they came in groups, maybe to have the security of having friends and families around them. The passenger list below is just one example of that bond. This is page 1 of the manifest fro the S.S. Argentina which sailed out of Patras, Greece in November of 1912.

Of the families listed on this manifest, almost 2/3 identify themselves as being Greek Jews, and on the far right of the page most list the relative being left in the old country as being some on in Janina, Greece. Page 2 of this manifest continues to show how the community was staying together.

In the fourth column the passenger list the name and address of the person they will be living with upon arrival. As with many of the people on this page, thousands of the Jews form Greece and Turkey listed the final destination as the area around Allen Street, Manhattan. During the time frame of 1904-1920 there are thousands who list Allen Street, Broome Street, or Eldridge Street as their future home. One page from the 1920 United States Census for Allen Street reinforces this. On the page below, more than half of the families list themselves as either being from Greece or Turkey.

The page above is just the end of house number 94 and the first part of house number 96. There were many apartments in this area and because of that the residents of Allen Street alone fill hundreds of pages.
Upon arrival and after becoming established in their new neighborhood, many settled down and started families with those they know so well, people from Janina. The document below is the Naturalization Record of Esther Solomon.

Esther, who was born in Janina on 6 Mar 1908 arrived in New York on 30 Aug 1913 under the name of Esther Napthali. On 11 Dec 1929 she was married to Joseph Solomon who was born 10 May 1901, also in Janina. They then established a household at 278 Broome Street.

 By 1926, the community had grown enough that construction was begun on a new synagogue. Completed in 1927, Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue was built at 280 Broome Street just steps from the home of Joseph and Esther Solomon, who are shown in the document above. This is the only Romaniote Synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. 
The fact that they were separate from other Jews, with their own traditions probably had a lot to do with the strength of their commitment to each other. Another group of these Jews also existed in Seattle, Washington, where they also maintained a tight bond.


  1. Great post, Todd! My Jewish Greek friends will appreciate it very much.

  2. Hi,
    Thanks for this post...
    I'm half Romaniote from Israel, currently trying to write a seminar about Ioanina Jews till ~700AD.
    I'd appriciate if you can share any resources about this community i could use to furthur study its history (I hope its ok 2 ask).
    10x :)

  3. Romaniote Jews have such an unique ancestry!!

  4. Wonderful post, Todd!

  5. My grandpa who lived in Janina (Ioannina), Greece in 1944 helped a Jewish merchant escape the Germans who came into Greece to roundup all the Jews in an effort to take them to concentration camps. As the story goes my grandpa hid this Jewish man in the attic of his home until the coast was clear. I was told the Jewish man fled to America (possibly to Chicago). Is there a way I can find out what happened to this Jewish Man? His first or last name was "Mati" Not sure of the spelling. Like i said Mati was a business owner in Janina (Ioannina), Greece.