Sunday, February 23, 2014

This Blog is Back Up and Running. No More Spam.

I have changed the settings and cleaned up as much as I could to make it readable once again.

Hope to see all of you here soon.

Thanks for your continued support.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Counting Down From Destruction and Looking Forward to Redemption; On an Interesting Custom of Romaniot (and many Sephardim too).

"Corfu ketuboth are distinguished for using double dating, the year since creation and the year since the destruction of the Temple. The two dates on this ketubah read at the wedding of Yani, the son of Raphael De Osmo, and Esther, daughter of David De Mordo, are 5573 and 1745. The decoration is calligraphic, inscribing verses from the Books of Isaiah and Ruth which speak of bridegroom, bride, rejoicing, and blessings, (Ketubah, Corfu, 3 Heshvan, 5573 (1812), Hebraic Section, Library of Congress Photo)".

(photo and description of Ketubah graciously provided by Mary Raz from the "Greek Jews" group on Facebook).

The custom of calculating the years since the destruction of the Temple seems to have been a widespread one across the Balkans. Both Sephardim and Romaniotes prided themselves on their roots from the exiles of Jerusalem (Sephardim would often refer to 'The exiles from Jerusalem that is in Sepharad', mentioned in Obadiah, while Romaniotes and Italkim [like De Rossi, for instance] cited oral tradition that they arrived in the area as Titus' slaves after the destruction of the Second Jewish Commonwealth in 70 CE).

When Eliezer ben Yehuda began  his Zionist project of reviving Hebrew as a spoken language, he encountered strong Sephardic support. This community, which people like A. Papo in his Sephardim in the United States, dubbed 'zionist in nature', was enthusiastic about such a project. 

Philologos writing in the Forward newspaper:

...Yet when Ben-Yehuda began publishing his weekly Hebrew newspaper Hatsvi in Jerusalem in the autumn of 1884, the date on its first issue was, “Friday, 5 Heshvan, 1816 years since the destruction of the Temple, 5645.” (There was no Gregorian date at all.) This formula was followed in the first seven issues of Hatsvi, after which “5645” was dropped. From then on, the only year on the masthead referred to the destruction of the Second Temple, which Ben-Yehuda chose to date to the beginning of the Romans’ siege of Jerusalem in 68 C.E. rather than to their final victory in 70. In everything else that he published, including his monumental 16-volume dictionary, he followed the same system.

Ben-Yehuda was an ardently nationalistic Zionist and an equally ardently anti-religious secularist, and his method of dating served both ideologies, replacing a chronology that started with God’s creation of the world with one that started with the loss of Jewish political independence in antiquity. And yet, just as he was always looking for justifications in Hebrew sources for his many linguistic innovations, so was his dating rooted in the past. Counting the years from the destruction of the Temple was actually quite common among Jews in the early centuries of the Christian era and was a system used in many ancient Hebrew documents and contracts. Although its year zero was eventually replaced by that of Creation, traces of it can still be found in Sephardic and Yemenite prayer books. Thus, for example, in some Sephardic liturgies for the fast day of the Ninth of Av, the day of mourning for the Temple, there is the passage: “Alas for the destruction of the Temple! Alas for the burning of the Torah! Alas for the murder of righteous Jews! Alas for the sorrow of the Messiah [in having his coming delayed]! Today is ______ number of years since the destruction of our holy shrine.”


Catriel Cellabos from the Western Sephardic Debate group (on Facebook) points out:

We say something like this after 'arbith of 9 de Ab (the traditional date that commemorates the destruction of both Temples), in Spanish: "Nuestros hermanos hijos de Israel, por nuestros pecados etc." with the number of years.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Article on Romaniots (Bene Romania) by Steven Bowman

Romaniots (Bene Romania)
The term Romaniot stems from the self-identification of the Greek-speaking Orthodox Christian population of the Balkans as Rhomaioi (Romans), that is, descendants of the citizens of the Roman Empire, which continued in itsByzantine incarnation until 1453. As citizens of the empire, the Jews were also Rhomaioi (Greek) or Romani(Latin), hence Romaniot (Heb. romaniotim). As a minority in a hostile Christian environment, the Romaniot Jews were subject to restrictive laws and constant harassment by the Orthodox Church, which treated them as a foil to the triumphalism of Christianity. Nonetheless, Judaism remained a permitted religion in the empire, and successive attempts by emperors to forcibly baptize Jews during the Middle Byzantine period were countered by the church on the grounds that baptism must be voluntary. In this regard the Orthodox Church differs significantly from the Roman Catholic Church, which treats baptism as an indelible act and allows persecution and punishment of “Judaizers.”
The vicissitudes of the Jews under Orthodox rule can be briefly summarized as follows: Under the Christian Roman Empire (from Constantine through Justinian and his successors), they were prohibited by law, with occasional exemptions, from participating in government, the courts, the army, and the universities, from holding and converting slaves, and from building new synagogues. During the Middle Byzantine period (Herakleios to Romanos Lekapenos), they were subjected to four attempts at forced baptism, a state tactic apparently repeated by Ioannes Vatazes in the rump empire of Nicaea in the thirteenth century. In the wake of the tenth-century Byzantine Crusades, Jews migrated into the empire, and by the twelfth century flourishing communities of Rabbanite and Karaite Jews were to be found throughout the Balkans and Anatolia. The Late Byzantine period (Michael Palaeologos to Constantine Palaeologos) saw further improvement in the political position of the Jews, who, along with the Armenians, provided economic resources for the weakened imperial government.
After his conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Mehmed II appointed Gennadeios Scholarios as patriarch over the entire Roman population. By 1455 the Romaniots, now formally zimmis (dhimmis) (see dhimma ), had succeeded in establishing their own autonomous community (later millet) under the leadership of Moses Capsali, appointed chief rabbi (rav manhig) of the Romaniot communities forcibly relocated to the capital, now called Istanbul, as part of the sultan’s efforts to repopulate the devastated city. In the cadastral register of 1477, the transplanted Romaniot communities numbered about fifteen hundred households and constituted some 10 percent of the city’s denizens. They were to hold the status of sürgün (forced migration) throughout most of the Ottoman period. This restrictive status, which deprived them of freedom of movement, placed the Romaniots at a distinct disadvantage compared to the Sephardi Jews, who enjoyed the more liberal status of kendi gelen (voluntary migration to the sultanate) granted them by Sultan Bayezid II.
According to later Sephardi memory (considered doubtful by some modern scholars) Bayezid invited the banished Jews of the newly united kingdom of Catholic Spain to his realm. In any case, they arrived shortly after 1500, and within a generation had supplanted the structure established for the Romaniots in the first seventy years after the conquest. Moses Capsali (d. ca. 1498) was succeeded by Elijah Mizraḥi (d. 1526) as rav manhig. Successive rabbis continued the institution for another generation until it fell into abeyance. In 1835 the office of haham başı(Heb./Turk. Hakham Bashi - chief rabbi) was established as part of the tanzimat reforms.
The Romaniot population of Istanbul consisted of both Rabbanite and Karaite Jews, who alternated between cordial and hostile relations. The twelfth-century Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela informs us that a fence separated the two communities to prevent communal strife. In the fifteenth century, Karaites studied with Rabbanite teachers. In the sixteenth century, conservative Romaniots prohibited teaching Karaites, while Karaites nearly split their community over internal rivalries. The Greek-speaking Romaniot congregations numbered forty-seven in 1540, each with its own synagogue named for its city or area of provenance; they were still listed as sürgün, as were the Karaites, in late seventeenth-century Ottoman documents and numbered some fifty-two hundred of the eighteen thousand Jews in Istanbul. Ottoman sources record a decline in the Romaniot population of the capital between 1535 and 1688, most likely due to the better legal status of the Sephardim as well as the mingling of the congregations and intermarriage between the two groups. The vicissitudes of urban life in the Ottoman capital, in particular fire and plague, also contributed to the decline.
Outside the capital Romaniot communities flourished in Epirus and the Peloponnese. The Romaniot communities in the Ionian islands, the Archipelago, Crete, and the Dodekanisoi (Dodecanese) came under the control of Venice; Genoa controlled Chios; and later the Angevins took the Ionian islands. The Romaniots in these areas became Italian-speaking until they were rejoined to the Greek kingdom in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. During the Ottoman period (Grk. Turkokratia) the Romaniots were under Turkish protection and usually lived within the walls of the kastro that controlled each city and town. The Jewish communities of the Peloponnese (also calledMorea, which later included Boeotia and Attica) were destroyed in 1821 during the initial stage of the Greek Revolution. During the Holocaust the Jewish inhabitants of the main Romaniot centers of Ioannina (Yanina) and Corfu were deported to their deaths in Auschwitz. Over ten thousand Romaniots (and over fifty thousand Sephardim) were sent to Nazi concentration camps. About eight thousand members of the Greek-speaking communities of the mainland either served with the resistance or hid in the mountains, many under the protection of the resistance.
The question of a neo-Romaniot identity among contemporary Greek Jews, who are primarily Greek-speaking even if of Sephardi origin, is in a state of flux among locals and scholars. Romaniot Jewry is characterized by its use ofJudeo-Greek, which preserves archaic elements (especially among Ioannina Jews) from its development over the past two millennia. Their synagogue rite is also unique to the regions from Corfu to the Black Sea (e.g., MaḥzorRomaniaMaḥzor Korfu) and is characterized by the use of Greek and a highly developed liturgical poetry ( piyyuṭim) that derives from Byzantine Palestine in Late Antiquity. Romaniot culture also further developed the midrashic tradition inherited from the Hellenistic period and from later Palestinian Jewish scholars. Kabbala and philosophy were particularly studied during the late Byzantine and early Ottoman periods along with medicine, astronomy, and Bible commentary. In addition, their customs present a mix of Late Antiquity Palestinian Jewry and contemporary Byzantine and post-Byzantine customs (primarily marriage, as in the medieval use of stephanomata [wreaths], and dowry arrangements), many of which are discussed by Joseph Caro in his Bet Yosef. This ancient Jewry, once numbering in the millions in Roman and Byzantine times,  comprises only a few hundreds in modern Greece and perhaps a myriad of identifying descendants in its diaspora.


The Bulletin of Judeo-Greek Studies has an ongoing bibliography on the topic.
Bowman, Steven. Jews of Byzantium, 1204–1453 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1985).
Goldschmidt, Daniel. “On the Mahzor Romania,” Sefunot 8 (1964): 205–236. Heyd, Uriel. “The Jewish Communities of Istanbul in the Seventeenth Century,” Oriens 4 (1953): 299–314.
Rosanes, Solomon. History of the Jews in the Ottoman Empire, vol. 1 (Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1930) [Hebrew].
Rozen, Minna. A History of the Jewish Community in Istanbul: The Formative Years, 1453–1566 (Leiden: Brill, 2002).
Weinberger, Leon. Anthology of Hebrew Poetry in Greece, Anatolia and the Balkans (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1975).
———. Rabbanite and Karaite Liturgical Poetry in South-Eastern Europe (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1991).
Steven Bowman. " Romaniots (Bene Romania)." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2012. Reference. National Library of Israel. 24 December 2012

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Colchamiro כל חמירא family; Romaniote Jews and Passover

The Romaniote Jews of Greece always maintained a special relationship with the holiday of Passover. As a result they took on the names that are associated with the holiday, as both personal names and surnames. Names like Pessah, Matza (a famous Greek-Jewish family in Israel), and Hametz (I had the privilege of meeting a young Romaniote Rabbinical student with this surname, Tzvi Hametz, last year). Tzvi also mentioned to me that he knew of a Greek-Jewish family who took on the amusing surname of 'kol hamira'. This Aramaic prayer כל חמירא וחמיעא is recited during the evening preceding the 14th of Nissan, and renders all the left-over unleavened bread in one's property null and void. It also recited by many on the day of the 14th, while burning the left-over hametz. The formula and translation follows (courtesy of Jewish in St. Louis) :

  • Perform the search and gather up all the crumbs as a family project. Tie them in a bundle, which will be burned the next morning.
  • After the search, recite the following formula:

    Kol chamira va-chami’ha d’ika vir’shuti, d’la chamitei u’d’la viartei u’d’la yadana lei livteil v’lehevei hefker k’afrah d’ar’ah.

    All manner of leaven which is in my possession, that I have not seen or removed, shall be annulled and considered as the dust of the earth.
  • On Wednesday morning, recite the following as you burn the chametz.

    Kol chamira va-chami’a d’ika virshuti, da-chazitei u’d’la chazitei d’chamitei u’d’la chamitei, d’viartei u’d’la viartei livteil v’lehevei hefker k’afra d’ar’ah.

    All chametz in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have removed it or not, is hereby nullified and owner-less, as the dust of the earth.

  • A little online searching brought me to a webpage that was created by a member of this mentioned family (spelled there 'colchamiro'). 

    According to one version of the family story, this is how the name came into being:
    The story we always tell is that our ancestor was a rag merchant in Greece and was very meticulous about picking good scraps; that he would look through the goods as carefully as one looks for leaven on Passover. The prayer that one says after locating all leaven in the house is called "Kal Chamira" and so his friends and associates said he was so picky that he might as well say "Kal Chamira" over his rag finds. Supposedly he was known by this name in Greece and gave it when arriving at Ellis Island, and that the immigration officials invented their own spelling.
    See more about this remarkable family here 

    and here

    Professor Rae Dalven who wrote a book on the Ioannina Romaniotes entitled The Jews of Ioannina, writes:

    "My mother's maiden name was Kalchamira (spelled Colchamiro in the United States). The family explanation is that her father, a cloth merchant, used to examine material as closely as if he were searching for leaven (hametz). This was associated with the statement made the night before the eve of Passover, beginning KAL HAMIRA DE IKA BIRSHT (May all leaven in my possession)."

    By a stroke of incredible coincidence, an Israeli journalist researched this very same same topic, at the same time as I did. His article appears here (in Hebrew).

    Sunday, January 17, 2010

    More details and photos of Hania Synagogue attack.

    At the excellent Abravanel Blog.

    Greek Jew Yitzhak Ganon Rebuilt his life after Horrors.

    Sixty-five years ago, infamous Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele removed Yitzhak Ganon's kidney without anesthesia. The Greek-born Jew swore never to see a doctor again -- until a heart attack last month brought his horrific tale into the open.

    He is a thin man. His wine-red cardigan is a little too big, and his legs are like matchsticks in his brown pants. Yitzhak Ganon takes care of himself. He's freshly shaven, his white mustache neatly trimmed. The 85-year-old sits on a gray sofa, with a cushion supporting his back. He is too weak to stand by himself, but he still greets a guest in German: "Guten Tag."

    Speaking is hard for him. "Slowly, Abba," his daughter Iris says, and brings him a glass of water. Her father has never in his life complained of any pain, she says.

    A month ago he came back from his morning walk and lay down. "Are you sick, Papa?" Iris asked. "No, just a little tired," Yitzhak Ganon answered, before going to sleep. But after a few hours he was still tired. "I don't need a doctor," he told his daughter.

    The next morning things were even worse. Ganon's wife and daughter called a doctor, who diagnosed a viral infection and told him to go to the hospital. Ganon resisted, but finally realized his life was in danger. At some point he stopped fighting the doctor's orders.

    'Just One Kidney'

    His family brought him to the hospital in his home town of Petach Tikva near Tel Aviv. He had hardly been admitted when he lost consciousness. Heart attack, the doctor said. The blood clots were cleared with the help of tiny balloons, and the doctors put five stents in him. "We thought he wouldn't survive the operation," said Eli Lev, the doctor. "Especially since he had just one kidney."

    When Yitzhak Ganon came to, he told the doctors where he lost the other kidney -- and why he had avoided doctors for 65 years. A reporter from the Israeli paper Maariv heard about the story. And now, weeks after the operation, Ganon is ready to tell his story to a German reporter for the first time.

    He stretches his back and looks at a photo on the living room wall. It shows the Acropolis in Athens. "I come from Arta, a small city in northern Greece. It happened on Saturday, March 25, 1944. We had just lit the candles to celebrate the Sabbath when an SS officer and a Greek policeman burst into the house. They told us we should get ourselves ready for a big trip."

    The 85-year-old slides the sleeve of his shirt up and uncovers his left forearm. The number 182558 is tattooed there in dark-blue ink.

    Tied Down

    The transport to Auschwitz took two weeks. His sick father died on the journey. Upon arrival, they had to strip and submit to an inspection. Ganon's mother and five siblings were then sent to the gas chambers.

    Yitzhak Ganon was taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau hospital, where Josef Mengele, the so-called "Angel of Death," conducted grisly experiments on Jewish prisoners.

    Ganon had to lie down on a table and was tied down. Without any anesthetics, Mengele cut him open and removed his kidney. "I saw the kidney pulsing in his hand and cried like a crazy man," Ganon says. "I screamed the 'Shema Yisrael.' I begged for death, to stop the suffering."

    After the "operation," he had to work in the Auschwitz sewing room without painkillers. Among other things, he had to clean bloody medical instruments. Once, he had to spend the whole night in a bath of ice-cold water because Mengele wanted to "test" his lung function. Altogether, Ganon spent six and a half months in the concentration camp's hospital.

    'Just Fatigue'

    When they had no more use for him, the Nazis sent him to the gas chamber. He survived only by chance: The gas chamber held only 200 people. Ganon was number 201.

    On January 27, 1945, Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops. Yitzhak Ganon made it back to Greece and found his surviving siblings -- a brother and a sister -- and emigrated to Israel in 1949. He got married. And he swore never to go to a doctor again. "Whenever he was sick, even when it was really bad," his wife Ahuva says, "he told me it was just fatigue."

    But now Ganon is happy he finally went to the hospital after his heart attack. One week later, he had another heart attack, and was given a pacemaker. "If the doctors hadn't been there," he says, smiling for the first time, "I would be dead now." Yitzhak Ganon has survived, again.

    Source: Der Spiegel

    Some Good News; Decent Greeks Decry Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism

    Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos
    Subject:Christians citizens demonstrate in support of Jewish cemetery in Ioann ina
    To: Undisclosed-recipients:;

    Normally I would wait for our monthly e-newsletter to pass on recent news from Greece, but some news deserves to be passed on immediately, especially when it is such good news. Too often, negativity makes the front page. In recent years, anti-Semitism is all too prevalent. What then can be more emotionally rewarding than to pass on the news of a recent mass demonstration against anti-Semitism? Where did this demonstration take place? In Ioannina! It was organized by the Christian citizens of the city and was heralded as a “a human chain against racism.” The cemetery was surrounded by the citizens of Ioannina to show their support for the Jewish community of the city and to publically show their outrage at recent desecrations of Jewish tombstones. In addition, a public exhibition was held, highlighting the ancient Jewish presence in the city and the importance of the Jewish cemetery as a monument to the long Jewish presence in Ioannina. The committee that organized the public display of support made the following statement: “The Jewish cemetery is not only the religious space of the Jewish Community but, also, a cultural monument of our city, the protection of which, like other historical monuments of our city, is the duty of every citizen.” Let us all applaud the good citizens of Ioannina who organized and took part in this historic event. Photos of the event can be found in the attachments.

    Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos
    Museum Director
    Kehila Kedosha Janina
    280 Broome Street
    NYC, NY 10002

    About Me

    My photo
    I am an independent research historian and genealogist and currently working on my first book that will explore the Sephardic origin of many Eastern European Jews. I hope to correspond on this blog with like minded individuals and learn more about the subjects being discussed as well as impart some of my own knowledge to others. Please be considerate and give proper credits when reproducing anything from this site. Thank you.