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Moving Concert at Ioannina Synagogue

IOANNINA, EPIRUS, GREECE – Dozens of friends, neighbors, and visitors from far away joined the Greek Jewish community in Ioannina, the beautiful and historic city by the lake in northwest Greece. Fine musicians accompanied the scintillating voice of Greek National Opera soprano Elena Voudouraki, who presented numerous beloved songs of the Sephardic community on September 26, the day after the solemn Jewish Holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

The wonderful cultural and spiritual event was organized with the support of the Cultural Center of Ioannina, the Jewish Community of the city, and the Spiritual Center of the Municipality of Ioannina.

Joining Voudouraki were Vicoria Kyriakidis, flute, Theodoris Lykouropoulos ,violin, Kostas Arsenis, doube bass, Solis Barki, percussion, and Markos Battinos, cantor and current president of the community, who offered Romaniote songs and music from the Jewish services.

The concert was held in the fine synagogue built in either 1826 or 1829 in the style of the Jewish architecture of Spain. (Credit: Constantine Sirigos)

The last song presented was ‘Adio, Querida’. The program describes it as a song of ‘unfifilled love’ – but it is symbolic, the ‘beloved’ being both the Sephardic homeland in Spain, as well as the longsuffering Jewish nation.

During the Holocaust, reportedly 1810 Jews from Ioannina were sent to the death camps – and only 181 are known to have survived.

The concert, which also honored the memory of the lost – only about 50 Jews remain in the area – was held in the fine synagogue built in either 1826 or 1829 in the style of the Jewish architecture of Spain, the lost homeland of the Sephardim. The roots of Ioannina’s Jewish community may go back 2000 years. Different traditions note that they original settlers were either merchants who settled in the 3rd century BC, after Alexander the Great and his successors unified the East  Mediterranean and the Near East, or they were refugees from the Roman empire’s destruction of Jerusalem. They are the ‘Romaniotes’ – the word is related to ‘Romios’, which is how Greek residents of the Roman and later Byzantine Empire and their descendants described themselves.

After Jews were expelled from Spain in the 15th century, they were welcomed by Ottoman authorities of occupied Greece. Known as  Sephardic Jews, they came to dominate Jewish life in the Balkans.


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