New Book on Jewish Community of Rhodes

The diversity of the Greek experience is explored in the new book entitled We are in Exile/Estamos En Galut by Mara W. Cohen Ioannides. The novella chronicles the decline of the Jewish community in the city of Rhodes in the years before World War II. The ancient and once vibrant Greek Jewish community destroyed by the Holocaust lived in peace with the Greek Christians during the years of Italian rule on the island. This coming of age story follows two sisters, Dora and Hannah in the traditional community of the Rhodelisi.

Hannah dreams of traveling to America to join her elder brothers who have already moved to Atlanta, Georgia to work and send home money to their families. Her hopes and those of her friends to find jobs in the United States are a poignant reminder of the continuing economic struggles that have plagued Greece and forced so many to leave their homeland in search of a better life. Alejandro is Dora and Hannah’s younger brother, the youngest of the five children in their family.

His experiences reveal the differences between the Jews and the Christians of Rhodes who lived side by side, but with different traditions and customs. The two groups may have clashed at times, but the children played together, developing friendships in spite of their differences.

The grandmother of the family, also called Hannah, struggles to make ends meet for the family whose men have gone off to work in America. The children’s parents, Moses and Miriam come to the difficult decision many of our parents, grandparents, and relatives had to make, to pull up stakes and move to America. Grandmother Hannah accompanies them on the voyage, but the extended family remains on Rhodes.

The epilogue reveals the fate of the family after the Holocaust. Geared toward young adults, the book is a concise 128 pages and is appropriate for adults as well.

The use of Ladino, the language of the Jews of Rhodes and Sephardic Jews, adds a distinctive element to the story with song lyrics and sayings, bringing the community to life. Ladino, also called Judeo-Spanish is a Romance language based on Old Spanish and is still spoken in over thirty countries. The language, traditions, and customs presented in the book preserve the memory of the Jewish community of Rhodes. We are in Exile/Estamos en Galut by Mara W. Cohen Ioannides is available online.

Mara W. Cohen Ioannides has a doctorate in Jewish Studies from The Spertus Institute of Jewish Learning and Leadership, an MA in Professional Writing from Carnegie Mellon University, and a BS in Computer Science from Columbia University. She writes both fiction and non-fiction and has directed a documentary all about Jewish subjects.

This is her second novel examining the Jewish communities in Greece. Her first, A Shout in the Sunshine, was a National Jewish Book Award finalist. Originally from Ewing, NJ, where she graduated Ewing High School, she currently lives in Springfield, MO, with her husband and daughter and teaches at Missouri State University. She is a member of Temple Israel and is the president of the Midwest Jewish Studies Association.