Before the Flame Goes Out:
A Document of the Romaniote Jews of Ioannina and New York

A photo essay and documentary film by Vincent Giordano
Before the Flame Goes Out is sponsored by
The International Survey of Jewish Monuments

The Romaniotes are among the most ancient extant Jewish communities anywhere in the world and the winds of twentieth century change appear to have finally swept it closer to its end. Lost in the mists of Jewish wandering and settlement that brought their ancestors to Greece 2300 years ago, the Romaniotes withstood the vicissitudes of history - from the rise and fall of empires to the attempts at coerced religious conversion, only to succumb in their Greek homeland to the devastation of the Holocaust, and in America, to the powerful influences of freedom, economic opportunity and the material affluence of its more open society.

The largely unknown and forgotten Romaniote Jews are on the verge of extinction, and once gone, will take the memories and recollections of their rich culture with them. Through the Romaniotes today, we can view the past. They are a tangible contact with Hellenistic Jewry, which formed the matrix in which Christianity was born and developed and out of which came great rabbis and scholars who influenced Jewish life, including R. Tobias ben Eliezer, R. Moses Kapsali and Shemarya Ikriti. Two thousand years ago, it was a Greek world; even during the Roman and Byzantine Empires, the effects of Greek language, philosophy and culture were pervasive in all walks of life. These effects are still in evidence today: the traditions of Greek democracy, philosophy and art are the cornerstones of Western civilization.

To quote the late historian, Dennis Boorstin, "We don't study history so that we can make a better decision tomorrow, we study history so that we will gain wisdom forever." Each of us yearns to connect with the past. It allows us to savor the present and celebrate who we are.

This project is made possible by the generous support of:
The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation
The Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation
The Lucius and Eva Eastman Fund

© 2005-2009
Vincent Giordano
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without permission