NEW YORK – 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.
The live performances began with musician Stavros Theodorou. Then the Hellenic Dancers of New Jersey in traditional costume performed, followed by the Noga Group’s music featuring Avram Pengas.
The Greek Jewish and Sephardic Young Professionals Network was among the organizations with a booth at the festival. Some of the members, Eric Levy, Melody Zelouf, and Michael Mintz, spoke to The National Herald. They told TNH that the aim of their organization is to organize meetings and events with young members of the synagogue to keep the traditions alive and the community united.
"We organize meetings, travel to Greece, and events to meet as a community," they said.
In fact, Eric and Melody will visit Greece for the first time this year and, as they told TNH, they are excited. "We love Greece very much and we are so happy that we will see it up close. We are looking forward to visiting Greece and enjoying the wonderful food.”
Also among those with a booth at the festival was Anastassios Mentis, who has supported the festival every year by participating with his own booth selling his extra virgin olive oil and salt from Greece.
"At first, I was surprised to see so many Greek Jews in America. It is a large community that is constantly growing. What I like is that they represent and also advertise Greece. I believe it is very good that this portion of Hellenism represents Greece. And you see Jews from all the nationalities that support the Greeks and this is an important lesson for us,” Mentis told TNH.
As noted on the festival website, Kehila Kedosha Janina (the Holy Community of Janina) is the only Romaniote synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. Romaniote Jews are a unique community of Greek-speaking Jews whose history in Greece dates back over 2,300 years to the time of Alexander the Great. The Romaniotes are historically distinct from the Sephardim, who settled in Greece after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.
Kehila Kedosha Janina is a New York City designated landmark, and continues to hold services every Saturday morning as well as for all Jewish holidays. In addition, it houses a museum about Greek Jewry that is open to the public every Sunday, as well as by appointment. The museum serves as a repository for both Romaniote and Sephardic history, especially on the Lower East Side, and hosts many educational events including lectures, book signings, movie screenings, and concerts.
More information about Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum is available online: www.kkjsm.org.