New York.- More than 100 attended the opening of a new exhibit, celebrating weddings in pre-and-post-WW II Greece, held during a beautiful Sunday afternoon, at 280 Broome Street, NYC, the only site housing the lone 90-year-old Romaniote (Greek-speaking) synagogue extant in North America! Those gathered spanned generations both in Greece and New York, some arriving as promised brides in arranged marriages that included dowries for the pre-women’s liberation period when women aspired to be wives and mothers.
The welcomed crowd soon ignited a torrent of memories, a sweet feast of remembrance of things past: the neighborhoods, first the Lower East Side then, with success, moving to Brooklyn locales in Mapleton, Midwood, Bensonhurst, even New Lots (where the Matathias family immediately moved, upon our arrival on the USS Constitution, January 30, 1956). The projected DVD (available for a nominal fee), with the Greek musical selections that have become classic, and the mainstay of offerings in social gatherings of the Pashas, replayed the images of wedding photographs that were plastered around every wall space.
The audience was encouraged to inspect the documents — ketubas, marriage contracts, licenses, gowns, and, in some cases, formalwear reflecting Ottoman influences. It was during our eager inspection by Anna and me, along with cousin Esther Gaines, and Mom Nina, that we encountered the official snapshot in living black and white, of Annoula’s parents — Maurice and Toula Franses, who wed in Larissa, September 11, 1949! Wistfully, and not knowing of the project’s existence, Anna and I resolved to make available our own wedding picture, circa August 29, 1970, in Volos.
Much credit is directed to museum director Marcia Haddad-Ikonomopoulos, as well as the shul’s president Marvin Marcus. As this was the opening reception, kosher bourekakia (spinach, cheese, and potato pies) were tasted, along with a variety of glyka (the delicious pastries, and cookies) Greek Jews have acquired from their non-Jewish neighbors, associates, and friends, as well from each other, including the arriving 1492 expelled Sephardic contingent from Spain.
Relations among the various groups living in Greece, and the Balkans, under Turkish Ottoman rule were not always exemplary, but culinary arts were often the great leveler to compose any incipient contention. In time, there was “intermarriage,” the blending under the hupa, the wedding canopy, of Jewish-Romaniote-Sephardi traditions. Indeed, and readily, and without guile today’s visitors proudly admitted, and where possible, paraded and identified their bicultural, and with the infusion of Ashkenazim, multi-ethnic family members.
As we universally hail this unique initiative into creative nostalgia, we also urge that the general public include a stopover at this Jewish landmark, among so many in a walking tour. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 516-456-9336. It was good to see old friends: the brothers Elliot and Jesse Colchamiro, Howard Danon, Phyllis DeCastros, Ilias Hadjis, Hy Matza, Morris Negrin, Avram Pengas (the troubadour of the Greek Jews serenading us with his bouzouki), Anna and Jonathan Ullman, et al. It is glorious to sweetly reminisce, and bathe in the glow of all of us living and thriving in the ever-hospitable, amazing, blessed, United States of America!