I recently attended another program in the series “The Forgotten Jewish Refugees,” presented by our local Sephardic synagogue.
“Sephardic” usually refers to Jews who are descended from those who were kicked out of Spain and Portugal in the late 1400s. Many resettled in Northern Africa and the Middle East–but most of those areas already had Jewish communities dating from the time of the Romans. These are technically not Sephardic, but usually identify more with them than with the Ashkenazic Jews, descended from those who lived in Central and Eastern Europe.
The original Greek Jewish community is thought to have started in the first century BCE, when Jews were being taken to Rome as slaves after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Some of the ships ran aground. Some of the prisoners made it to shore and settled among the Greeks in the area that would become Ioannina. This is thought to be the oldest Jewish settlement in Europe.
These “Romaniote” Jews kept themselves separate from the “newcomers,” the Sephardic Jews who arrived from Spain after 1492. They spoke Yevanic, a form of Judeo-Greek, while the Sephardim spoke Ladino, a mixture of Hebrew and Spanish.
In the 12h century, traveler Benjamin of Tudela documented large Jewish communities in Corfu, Arta, Corinth, Thebes, Thessaloniki and other Greek towns.
By the early 20th century, about 40 percent of the population of Thessaloniki were Jews.
The Jewish population of Greece was savaged by the Holocaust; approximately 86 percent were slaughtered by the Italians and Germans. Today, only 4,000 to 6,000 Jews remain in Greece. Most of the others live in the U.S. or Israel.
As usual at these presentations, we were served a sample of several delectable Greek-Jewish foods. There were spinach and cheese burekas, salad with beets and feta cheese, baklava, sesame candy, and this delicious bean soup, called Fasolada.
As soon as I got home, I made a big pot. It’s easy to make, very tasty, and the perfect thing for a cold winter day.
I chopped the onion and grated the carrots in my food processor, and used bottled crushed garlic, making the prep very easy.