New York’s Romaniote Synagogue Welcomes Visitors
Among the Chinese signs along New York’s Broome Street, marked with Hebrew lettering, stands the small street front Romaniote synagogue, Kehila Kedosha Janina, built in 1927. Isaac Dostis, the synagogue coordinator, says that the synagogue is the only Romaniote one in the United States. Romaniote Jews, according to legend, first settled in Janina Greece around 70 CE after escaping a Roman slave ship. [Additional information on Romaniote Jewry can be found in the JHR, I:3-4, p.6] Romaniote Jewry is unique from that of the Sephardic and Ashkenazic in its customs, traditions and liturgy.
Romaniote synagogues are usually laid out east to west, with the ehal (ark) on the east wall and bimah on the west wall. Seating, typically, runs from west to east with men congregates facing each other. The women’s section usually is contained above in a balcony above the men’s section with seating on the north, south and west sides. The women typically had their own outside entrance.
The Kehila Kedosha Janina synagogue is unusual in that it runs north south with the ehal on the north side. Additionally unusual for Romaniote synagogues is the placement of the bimah at Kehila Kedosha in the center of the sanctuary and the interior stair for the women’s balcony. The north/south configuration of the lot and its small size most probably led to the synagogue’s unprecedented lay out.
Recently, modest exhibits have been added to the walls of the women’s balcony constituting a Romaniote Jewry museum. The synagogue is open for Saturday services at 9 am and on all holidays, the museum operates from 11-4 on Sundays and by appointment. Both are at 280 Broome Street (at Allen Street) in Manhattan.
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