Kehila Kedosha Janina: Iconic Congregation Stands the Test of Time

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Kehila Kedosha Janina (the Holy Community of Janina) is the only Romaniote synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. Romaniote Jews are the indigenous Jews of Greece and have the distinction of the longest continuous presence in the European Diaspora. They are a unique community of Jewish people 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.

The Kehila Kedosha Janina synagogue was first organized in New York in 1906 by Greek-speaking Romaniote Jews from the city of Ioannina in Northwestern Greece. In the early twentieth century there were hundreds of other synagogues on the Lower East Side that served Ashkenazi Yiddish-speaking Jews or Sephardic Spanish-speaking Jews. Needing a place of their own where they could preserve their unique traditions, customs, liturgy, and language, property was purchased at 280 Broome Street and the congregation opened its doors to worship at its current location in 1927. When KKJ opened, it was the 404th Jewish house of worship on the Lower East Side, south of Houston and is now one of only three still functioning, and one of only two that still conduct services.

For the past 95 years, KKJ has served the Romaniote community on the Lower East Side and after the closing of nearby Sephardic synagogues, many of the remaining neighborhood Sephardim. In 1997, a museum was created in the women’s gallery to tell the story of this distinct community to a world that knew so little about them. The present Museum Director, Marcia Haddad-Ikonomopoulos, is celebrating her 20th year as the Director. As she often, jokingly, says, “The Museum has legitimized my obsession.” 

The synagogue is a designated New York City landmark and continues to hold services every Shabbat as well as 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 Romaniote and Sephardic Greek Jewish history, both in Greece and on the Lower East Side, and hosts many educational events including lectures, book signings, movie screenings, and concerts. One of our most popular events is our annual Greek-Jewish Street Festival, held every May, during Lower East Side History Month. Contact our Museum Director (museum@kkjsm.org) for additional information on this and other events. Visit our website at www.kkjsm.org for additional information and to schedule tours. 

Kehila Kedosha Janina is located at 280 Broome St  New York, NY 10002