Romaniots are called the first Jews of the diaspora who moved to Greece, as a result of the successive destruction of their sanctuary by foreign invaders. They therefore have a long history of at least 2000 years.
The language of their prayer is Hebrew and Aramaic, the language of the Bible. However, due to their long presence in a Greek-speaking environment, they spoke Greek, with several admixtures of Hebrew and Turkish words and expressions. This linguistic idiom today bears the term Gevanika. It is very interesting that in their written speech – mainly in the past – they often used Greek words with Hebrew characters, probably due to their one-sided religious education.
There were many Romaniot communities. Today only those of Chalkida and Ioannina are preserved.
The Romanioti community of Ioannina, from which the sounds of this collection come, tends – like many other communities – to disappear, mainly due to the human damage caused by the Holocaust, but also to the migration of camp survivors or their descendants to other cities and countries, mainly Israel, America, and Europe. The driving force behind the creation of this cd was the duty to keep this tradition alive as long as I could.
However, I must admit that among the feelings of joy and satisfaction for the creation of this album, sorrow often pierces me, when I think about how much valuable tradition was lost, since the people who were the bearers of this tradition were lost in the Holocaust. People who celebrated with it, were born, loved, danced, prayed, got married and started families.
In this endeavor I had the help of excellent collaborators, and especially of Markos Battinos, cantor of the synagogue of Ioannina and probably the last authentic Romaniot, who is able to perform this musical idiom so faithfully, sensually and technically correct. I thank them warmly, as well as all those friends and fellow believers who sang to me, gave me cassettes, tape recorders and books, valuable material to study this particular musical genre. Among them is Anna Raphael, a deceased lady from Ioannina, with valuable and authentic recordings, and Joseph Matsas, with his excellent and very informative book “Jewish Songs from Ioannina” (published by Ipirotiki Estia, 1953).
Finally, I would like to thank Rabbi Isaac Mizan for his invaluable help.
Romaniotic songs have mostly religious content and themes taken from the scriptures. Their melodies have a great affinity with Byzantine and folk music, and their language is Gevanika, as I mentioned above. Sometimes we find in them the coexistence of whole Greek and Hebrew verses. They are sung at religious or secular gatherings.
Synagogue Hymns are excerpts from the synagogue service on the Sabbath or other Jewish holidays. They are sung in the language of the Torah (the Bible) a capella (unaccompanied) by the cantor and the the faithful attendees.
Piyutim (singular: piyut, from the greek word piima = poem), are excerpts from the writings or sayings of wise and important rabbis or verses rendered in the Greek language. They are sung anywhere, in the synagogue or other religious and secular gatherings, due to their didactic or entertaining character.
“Kina glossa” (tong, start narrating)
This song is a small epic, which tells the story of the rescue of the Jews of Persia, around the 5th century BC, with the efforts of Esther and Mordechai. It is sung during the Purim festival, dedicated to this historic event, which is contained in the Old Testament book “Esther” (Megilat Esther).
“Adonai Ata – My God in your hand”
Song of Rosh Ashana (the Jewish New Year).
Adonai Ata (Lord you know),
Edecha ata maati. (Before You my will)
My God in Your hand
are the three keys.
El Hai Rahman, (God have mercy on me),
Melech meeman. (Adorable King).
“My child, preserve the Sabbath”
A song for the sanctity of Saturday.
“Yarabi, that you are high above”
Excerpt from a circumcision dinner song called Salamatia.
Yarabi, that you are high above and look down,
our sins are many, don’t count them.
Throw our sins into the depths of the sea
for Abraham with his divine grace kept your orders.
He is tested with ten trials
It is revealed to the 72 Elders.
“Alleluia” (Psalm 113)
Praise the Lord.
Praise ye, ye faithful of the Lord,
praise the name of the Lord.
Blessed be the name of the Lord now and always.
From sunrise to sunset,
let the name of the Lord be praised.
The Lord is above all nations
and his glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God,
who lives high up?
who lowers to see things
where is it in heaven and on earth?
He raises the poor from the dust,
and lifts the needy out of the mud
to place him with the princes,
even with the princes of his people.
He makes the sterile woman in her house,
happy mother of her children.
Praise the Lord.
“Vesameru” (Exodus, ch. 31, ed. 16-17)
And they will keep the Sabbath
the children of Israel.
Do the Sabbath to all generations
to be an eternal testament.
“It will always be a sign,
between me and the children of Israel”.
Because for six days the Lord worked
above the heavens and the earth,
and on the seventh day,
rested and renewed.
“Askivenu” (Saturday night prayer)
Lie us down, Lord God, in peace, and lift us up again, our King, to a new life.
Spread the tent of Your peace over us,
and guide us with Your good advice.
Save us for the sake of Your name;
Blessed are you, Lord, who spread the tent of Your peace upon us,
and to all His people Israel and Jerusalem. Amen.
“Once he met”
Piyut from the book “Pirke Avot“: Chapter VI, adage 10, translated in Greek.
According to the story, Ribbi Yose ben Kishma narrates this text.
A song of the Passover, sung following the narration of Seder (the festive supper). Normally this song is sung in its entirety, by repeating the first line (the goat), adding each time a new presence (the cat, the dog e.tc.). Here, for the sake of brevity, the intermediate pieces were omitted, to conclude with the last one which is complete, to the glory of Hakadosh-baruch-hu (the Saint, may he be blessed).
“Kina glossa” (complete)
Thanks to the popularity of this song, the importance of the story for the Jewish people, as well as the special linguistic idiom, characteristic of the Romaniots, it was decided to include in this collection a complete version of the song (the whole poem), as it was sung in those years.