22 August 2006

At the ICJG: It's all Greek

For 2,000 years, Greek-speaking Romaniote Jews have lived in Ioannina in the Pindos Mountains foothills of northwest Greece.

At the ICJG, Marcia Haddad-Ikonomopoulos shared her years of research into naming patterns in this community (also spelled Yannina or Janina). As museum director of Kehila Kedosha Janina (Holy Congregation of Ioannina) on New York City’s Lower East Side, and president of the Association of Friends of Greek Jewry, she is well-versed in its history and traditions.

When young Yanniote men began immigrating to New York, they founded the still-active congregation in 1927, and maintained a relationship with their ancestral town.

The museum has a large collection of the Yanniote tradition of Alephs, unique hand-painted birth certificates hung over each baby boy’s crib for 40 days. Importantly for researchers, each includes the names of baby, father and grandfather.

In a common Romaniote pattern, the father's name is passed down to the next generation. For example, if Solomon has children, each son’s first son and each daughter’s second son would be named Solomon. Many surnames are of Hebrew or Biblical origin with Greek suffixes, such as Bechoropolous (the son of a first-born son).

During the Holocaust, 1,960 Yanniotes were deported, of which 1,850 perished.

In 2003, the New York synagogue obtained Greek archival material, including a list of those who died; their names are inscribed in stone on Ioannina’s synagogue walls. The book In Memory of the Jewish Community of Ioannina, which is available at the museum, lists surnames, family nicknames, given names, ages, occupations and maiden names, if known. A survivors’ list is included.

For information about the synagogue and museum, call 212-431-1619, or go to www.kkjsm.org. Click on “Archives” for Haddad-Ikonomopoulos’ detailed conference presentation.

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