KKJ In the News 

 

This Big Fat Greek-Jewish Street Festival Is Actually An Amazing Party

May 23, 2019

Featured in The Forward

I say, “Jewish Lower East Side.”

You say, “Bagels.” Or perhaps, “Katz’s corned beef.”

But what if I told you, “Bourekas”? What if I told you, “Baklava”?

Those foods, as Jewish and as native to LES as schmaltz and herring, were on sale by the thousands at the fifth annual Greek Jewish Festival, hosted by Kehila Kedosha Janina, a nearly 100-year-old synagogue on Broome Street that preserves a rare strand of Greek Judaism. The festival is part of KKJ’s efforts — and those of Greek Jews around the world — to revitalize the heritage of one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities. 

The 5th Annual Greek Jewish Festival on Broome Street

June 07, 2019

Featured in The National Herald

 

With a huge Yiasou banner spanning the street, members of the Greek Jewish community welcomed thousands of visitors on May 19. The festival was organized by the Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue for the fifth consecutive year on Broome Street in Manhattan.

 

Members and friends of the Greek Jewish community enjoyed live Greek and Sephardic music, food, and ouzo once again this year.

Broome Street was adorned with Greek, Israeli, and American flags, as attendees visited the vendors’ booths, enjoying the sun and Greek and kosher food. Arts and educational activities for the kids were also part of the entertainment at the festival.

Baklava and Bourekas Abound At Greek Jewish Festival

May 07, 2018

Featured in The Forward

 

In front of 280 Broome St, the Greek Jewish Festival attempted to preserve a forgotten culture. The sounds of a lute and the dulcet tones of Daphna Mor blasted through the streets. Some space was partitioned off for particularly enthusiastic participants to jump in and dance. The festival was in full swing.

From a map of Greece posted on the wall, inviting passersby to label where their ancestors were from, to a list of Greek Jewish proverbs (“get married and your misery increases” was one of them), this was a celebration of the distinct culture of Romaniote and Sephardic Jews.

Taking Greek Jewish Life to the Streets of New York

April 24, 2018

Featured in My Jewish Learning

 

People often ask me where my family came from before the United States. I always proudly answer, “Greece.”

Shocked, they respond, “Really? I didn’t know there were Jews in Greece.” Not only are there still Jews in Greece today, there is an active, vibrant, and growing Greek Jewish community in New York City, with an amazing Greek Jewish Festival.

How exactly did the Festival begin? On Sundays in NYC, my father would always take us to different street fairs, which gave us the opportunity to explore the incredible diversity of culture throughout the city. He would often joke that the synagogue should put on a street fair of its own, highlighting our unique Greek Jewish heritage. But after years of street fairs and joking about what our own would look like, my brother finally said, “Let’s do it,” and went ahead to lead the charge in founding the first event of its kind in the world.

Greek Jewish Shabbat on May 4-5 at Kehila Kedosha Janina

April 18, 2018

Featured in The National Herald

 

A very special Shabbat celebrating the Romaniote and Sephardic traditions of the Jews of Greece takes place on May 4-5at Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum, 280 Broome Street in Manhattan.

Community leaders from Greece, Seattle, Indianapolis, Portland, Miami, Atlanta, and Philadelphia will be present, including the following distinguished Hahamim: Rabbi Gabriel Negrin, Jewish Community of Athens, Greece; Rabbi Ben Hassan, Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation, Seattle; Rabbi David Gingold-Altchek, Etz Chaim Sephardic Cong, Indianapolis; and Rabbi Nissim Elnecavé, The Sephardic Jewish Brotherhood of America.

Holocaust Survivor, Courageous Family Who Saved Him Reunited at LES Synagogue

April 15, 2018

Featured in The Lo-Down

 

Earlier this month, there was a heartfelt reunion at Kehila Kedosha Janina, the Greek Jewish synagogue, between a Holocaust survivor and members of the Christian family who helped save his life.

 

Each year, the historic Lower East Side congregation observes Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. At least 67,000 Greek Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War II. One of the synagogue’s longtime leaders, Sol Kofinas, was only six-years-old when his father, mother, sister and baby brother were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Visiting the only Romaniote synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, Kehila Kedosha Janina in New York

March 15, 2018

Featured in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency

A Facebook Live tour of Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum

City Designates ‘Hy Genee Way’ to Honor Leader of LES Jewish Greek Community

August 05, 2016

Featured in the Bowery Boogie

 

It took more than six months, but the city finally weighed in on the newest Lower East Side street co-naming. “Hy Genee Way” will soon grace the historic, albeit smelly, corner of Allen and Broome Streets.'

Mayor de Blasio signed the legislation on Wednesday to enact the ceremonial renaming, located outside the Kehila Kedosha Janina synagogue. The new signage will be implemented later this year with a more official celebration. This designation (nay, recognition) arrives six months after Community Board 3 offered its support of same.

Mayor Approves Co-naming Part of Broome Street as “Hy Genee Way”

August 05, 2016

Featured in The Lo-Down

 

It was a happy day yesterday for the family and friends of Hy Genee, the longtime leader of Kehila Kedosha Janina, the historic Greek Jewish synagogue on the Lower East Side.

Mayor de Blasio signed legislation designating a section of Broome Street “Hy Genee Way.” A co-naming ceremony will take place later this year. Kehila Kedosha Janina, located at 280 Broome St., just west of Allen Street, is a city landmark and the only Greek Jewish synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. Genee was president of the synagogue for more than 50 years. He died at the age of 83 in 2006.

Among those in attendance yesterday were Lois Genee Ledner and Marty Genee, Hy’s children.  In a statement, Ladner described her father as, “the son of immigrants from Greece, a tailor by trade and a rabbi in his heart and soul whose love for his synagogue, Romaniote liturgy and traditions and the Lower East Side have led to this day.”

A New York Beacon for Greek Jews

June 27, 2016

Featured in The Wall Street Journal

 

Not only was I unfamiliar with Kehila Kedosha Janina on Broome Street, the last remaining Romaniote synagogue in the Western Hemisphere and a New York City landmark, but I’d never heard the term Romaniote Judaism. It’s a community of Greek Jews more than 2,000 years old. They came to the U.S. starting in the early 1900s; the synagogue on the Lower East Side opened in 1927. All of this was explained to me by Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos, who is director of the synagogue’s museum. Ms. Ikonomopoulos hosts a combination Greek kosher lunch and synagogue tour as well as annual trips to Greece.

My Big Fat Greek Jewish Festival

May 23, 2016

Featured in The Forward 

 

Most of the year, the stretch of Broome Street between Allen and Eldridge Streets, on the Lower East Side in New York City, is fairly quiet. The majestic Kehila Kedosha Janina overlooks Chinese restaurants and repair shops as cars and motorbikes speed by on Allen Street’s southbound branch. But this Sunday, the block was crowded with the joy and celebration of hundreds as they came to celebrate a subset of New York Jewry that, though perhaps not as famous as the Lower East Side’s Ashkenazi community, is neither unforgotten nor unknown. There was Jewish music, there was Jewish food, and there was Jewish celebration.

The annual Greek Jewish Festival is held by the Kehila Kedosha Janina synagogue, the Western Hemisphere’s only Romaniote synagogue and a major center for the diaspora of Greek Jews in New York City. The festival celebrates the century-long presence of Greek Jews on the Lower East Side, and the continued vitality of Greek Jewish and Sephardi culture in New York today. Attendees — Greek, non-Greek, Ashkenazi, non-Jewish — came from across the metropolitan area to see the historic synagogue, hear Greek music, eat Greek Jewish food and celebrate this Jewish culture.

The Greek Jewish Festival!

May 19, 2016

Featured in Jewcy.com

Hungry for baklava and knowledge?

If you find yourself in the NYC area this Sunday (May 22nd), try the Greek Jewish Festival, based out of Kehila Kedosha Janina, (no, you don’t have to be Greek and/or Jewish).

After last year’s smash inauguration (they had about 2,000 attendees), this year’s street fair will be bigger, better, and tastier (and trust us, last year was tasty). This festival offers a new musical lineup (including Rebetika, known also as “Greek soul music”), more family activities, and food that includes a vintage Good Humor truck selling kosher ice cream (because why not?).

“We’re adapting and reinventing what it means to be a Greek Jew, and to celebrate a culture and a heritage,” Andrew Marcus, the festival’s director, told Jewcy. “We see this festival as another key component of sustaining and revitalizing our communtiy for the next generation.”

What Life was Like at Broome and Allen During the 1930s

May 19, 2016

Featured in the Bowery Boogie 

 

With wheels in motion to co-name the corner of Broome and Allen Streets “Hy Genee Way,” and the advent of the second annual Greek Jewish Festival this Sunday, it’s time for an appreciation. An appreciation of the block through the eyes of the Kehila Kedosha Janina – for which Genee was longtime president and local advocate. For the purposes of this piece, we elect to discuss the eleven Depression years spanning 1931 through 1942.

 

The congregation itself was founded in 1919 by Jews from the town of Janina, and the composition of the block reflected that. Indeed, this abbreviated area between Allen and Eldridge was a veritable “Little Greece.”

“Broome and Allen Street was epicenter of the Greek Jewish community (including Sephardic and Romaniote Jews from Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans),” Greek Jewish Festival Director Andrew Marcus tells us. “The block was like one small town – everyone knew everyone and entire families from Greece populated different floors in different buildings.”

Surviving the Holocaust as a ‘hidden child’ in Athens

January 01, 2020

Featured in PBS Newshour 

 

It was shortly before Passover in 1944 when 6-year-old Solomon Kofinas saw his father and sister for the last time. The war had taken its toll on Athens, where Kofinas grew up, since the invasion by Germany’s Nazi forces three years earlier. There was no money. Families bartered for bread. Kofinas’ father, who sold men’s suits, traded clothing to keep the family fed. “Give them a shirt, get a little flour,” Kofinas said. “Give them some socks, get maybe a couple of eggs.”

 

He recalled one day when his father, Haim, unexpectedly brought home a young chicken, the first the family had seen in years. He tied its leg with a string so it wouldn’t fly away. “We hoped it would give us an egg or something,” Kofinas said. But finally, he said, the family became so hungry they killed the chicken for food.

 

One Friday, his mother, Rachel, asked his father and 15-year-old sister, Perna, to go to the market in advance of Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest traditionally observed from sunset on Friday until Saturday evening.

 

By then, the Germans had issued an edict advising Jewish families to register at the Melidoni Street synagogue in central Athens. Nazi forces said families who registered would be given handouts, including flour and sugar rations.

 

Community Board Supports Co-Naming Broome Street Block for Former President of Kehila Kedosha Janina

February 11, 2016

Featured in the Bowery Boogie

 

Forever deemed the smelliest block in all of Manhattan, the northwest corner of Broome and Allen Streets is getting a makeover. In name only. Gears are now in motion to bestow a more palatable designation. One that is way more honorable – street co-naming for a former pillar of the community. That’s right, “Hy Genee Way” is on the way.

 

Who’s that, you ask?

 

Born and raised in the neighborhood, Hy Genee was a big macher for decades, known as Mr. Lower East Side long before Rev Jen started her popular variety show. Due to a lifetime of service to the community, both as a tailor on Delancey Street and president of Kehila Kedosha Janina, Genee was able to single-handedly keep the synagogue alive for decades.

 

The Incredible History of a Greek Jewish Shul in NYC

June 04, 2015

Featured in Tablet Magazine

 

This past Sunday, strings of Greek, Israeli and American flags danced in the breeze over a Lower East Side block. The air smelled of honey. Long lines of people waited to nosh on baklava and biscochos, a traditional Sephardic cookie. Under a big banner reading YASOU! a diverse crowd of Jews, Latinos, Chinese-Americans—along with the typical mix of white-sneaker-wearing fanny-pack-sporting tourists and local hipsters with expensive haircuts—listened to live bands rocking out with ouds and daoulis. (I especially enjoyed the awesomely-named Pontic Firebird, which plays dance music from the western Pontic zone of the Black Sea.)

 

The Greek Jewish festival was sponsored by Kehila Kedosha Janina, a tiny synagogue on Broome Street between Eldridge and Allen Streets. I’d passed it many times—it’s only a few blocks from my apartment—assuming that it was one of the many small shuls in the neighborhood that had become fancy condos. But no: Kehila Kedosha Janina is the only Romaniote synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.

2nd Annual Greek-Jewish Street Festival in NYC an Astounding Success!

June 27, 2016

Featured in NEO Magazine 

This past May, Broome Street between Allen and Eldridge on the Lower East Side of Manhattan vibrated with the sounds of the bouzouki and the clarinet as Kehila Kedosha Janina (the Greek Synagogue) celebrated its second Greek-Jewish Street Festival. As the crowds lined up for bourekia, Greek salad, mezedes, koulouria and baklava, the street where so many Greek Jews had once lived at the beginning of the 20th century once again resounded with the melodies of Ladino and Greek music. Joining in the celebration were the new residents of Broome Street; Asian and Spanish. With the tenements as a backdrop, the crowd danced to rebetika, pontiakos, hasapiko, kalamatianos and, of course, belly dancing.

Kehila Kedosha Janina Hosts Greek Jewish Festival Sunday

May 26, 2015

Featured in The Lo-Down

 

Lower East Side History Month is ending with a bang this coming weekend. Kehila Kedosha Janina, the little Broome Street synagogue, is throwing its first Greek Jewish Festival on Sunday.

 

If you’re not familiar, it’s the only Romaniote synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. The building, located at 280 Broome St., was lovingly restored and is one of the few remaining architectural jewels of the old Lower East Side. The property is a New York City landmark.

 

The festival will include authentic kosher Greek foods and homemade Greek pastries, traditional Greek dancing and live Greek and Sephardic music, an outdoor marketplace full of vendors, arts and educational activities for kids and more.

It all takes place from noon-6 p.m. on Sunday on Broome Street between Allen and Eldridge streets.

Kehila Kedosha Janina is Planning a ‘Greek Jewish Festival’ for the Springtime

January 05, 2015

Featured in the Bowery Boogie

 

There was a time when the neighborhood hosted an annual Lower East Side Jewish Festival on East Broadway, but those days are long gone. Instead we’ve seen the more niche “Egg Rolls and Egg Creams Festival” the last fourteen years at the Eldridge Street Synagogue. Now its brethren up the bend seeks to revive more of that cultural mojo. Time has come for a Greek Jewish Festival, the first of its kind, and also in a Chinese neighborhood.

 

The landmark Kehila Kedosha Janina on Broome Street is planning said Greek Jewish Festival for May 31, 2015 directly outside its doors. Sponsored by the 87-year-old tenement synagogue, the event promises a celebration of “the unique heritage of this historic community through traditional food, music, and community groups.” That includes live Greek, Sephardic, and Israeli music alongside traditional Romaniote and Sephardic foods.

Praying for Keeps

April 17, 2013

Featured in Narratively

 

When Sol Kofinas came to New York from Athens in 1957, he was, like so many immigrants before him, in search of a better life. With the help of two aunts already living in New York, Kofinas settled on the Lower East Side among Jewish immigrants like himself.

 

Except that most weren’t like him. They had no clue how to prepare eggplant burekas or kasher a leg of lamb for Shabbat. Kofinas didn’t recognize the melodies they prayed to or the Yiddish they spoke. Knishes and gefilte fish were foreign to him, and the Jews Kofinas met in America certainly couldn’t trace their roots back 2,300 years from a slave ship bound for Rome, as he could.

Romaniote, Romaniote

December 26, 2012

Featured in the New York Jewish Week

 

Against all odds (and urban demographics), a Greek-Jewish presence still clings to the Lower East Side.

 

I recently took a wrong turn on the Lower East Side — and walked right into the Jewish past.

Because my sense of direction has never been dependable, it was no surprise that as I walked from the subway to the modish Lower East Side bar where a friend was hosting a party, I lost my way. The surprise was where I found myself instead: in front of a two-story honey-colored brick tenement-width building whose distinctive stained-glass windows featured azure blue and white six-pointed stars.

Something Old, Something New at Museum Kehila Kedosha Janina

November 23, 2009

Featured in Greek News

More than 100 attended the opening of a new exhibit, celebrating weddings in pre-and-post-WW II Greece, held during a beautiful Sunday afternoon, at 280 Broome Street, NYC, the only site housing the lone 90-year-old Romaniote (Greek-speaking) synagogue extant in North America! Those gathered spanned generations both in Greece and New York, some arriving as promised brides in arranged marriages that included dowries for the pre-women’s liberation period when women aspired to be wives and mothers.

Spreading little-known history of Romaniote Jews

July 02, 2008

Featured in the New York Daily News

 

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Ilias Hadjis addressed a half-dozen people in the women's section of a lower East Side synagogue. He pointed to cities on a map of Greece and rattled off their Jewish populations. 

 

"Athens is 3,000," he says. "One hundred in Halkis. One hundred on the island of Corfu. One thousand in Saloniki." And Janina (or Ioannina), the northwestern Greek city that gives name to the synagogue and museum where Hadjis volunteers each week? "Thirty nine." 

 

Kehila Kedosha Janina, the Holy Congregation of Janina, is home to a New Yorkcommunity of Romaniote Jews who trace their lineage not to Eastern Europelike the predominant Jewish culture in the neighborhood, but to ancient Rome.

It’s All Greek to Them

May 21, 2004

Featured in The Forward

The Kehila Kedosha Janina synagogue has survived for years in relative obscurity, much like the distinct community of Jews that worships there. Located at 280 Broome Street on New York’s Lower East Side, the historic two-story gem is the only synagogue of Romaniote Jews in the Western Hemisphere, and it has the sparse attendance to prove it.

Greek Jews Still Gather On Broome

September 28, 1997

Featured in The New York Times

 

On Broome Street, just west of Allen Street, most of the signs have Chinese lettering. But there is a modest wooden door inscribed with Hebrew letters; behind it sits Kehila Kedosha Janina, the last Greek Jewish synagogue in the city, its members and Jewish historians say.

 

After Saturday morning services, 15 or 20 congregants eat chocolate cake in the basement. Sitting at a separate table from the women, some of the men drink ouzo, the Greek liqueur.

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Kehila Kedosha Janina | Synagogue and Museum

 

280 Broome St  New York, NY 10002 

Office: (212)-431-1619 | Museum Director: (516)-456-9336 | Email: info@kkjsm.org

© Kehila Kedosha Janina 2019. All Rights Reserved.