Friday, August 17, 2012

Saltiels Loose in NYC

It seems I'm not finished talking about the International Shealtiel Reunion. I'm compelled to share what I learned on our walking tour. Jai Zion of the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy was a most excellent guide; a wealth of information on early NYC, when it was called New Amsterdam, and on the Jews who settled there beginning with the first 23 who landed in 1654.

When it rained we got wet and/or we took shelter under ever present scaffolding. The rain kept the heat (but not the humidity) at bay 

The keeper of the keys to this cemetery didn't think we'd come in the rain so she didn't show until summonsed! 

The gates opened, the sun came out, and we found ourselves in a gentle space transported to a much earlier place in time

In Chinatown, beneath the skyscrapers of downtown Manhattan, wedged between other buildings, is a tiny this synagogue. It was a privilege and a rich highlight for me to tour the inside.

Saltiels wandering the streets of downtown Manhattan. Poor Jay it was like herding cats!

In 1997, when we attended the Thessaloniki, Greece reunion, I was naive. I thought if you were a Jew you were a Jew. There I learned about Ashkenazic Jews from Northern and Eastern European (Christian) countries and Sephardic Jews who lived in the Iberian Peninsula, African and Middle Eastern (Muslim) countries. It was the Sherpardim who were expelled from Spain in 1492. Nor did I know that Yiddish (based on German and Hebrew) which many people think of as the language of Judaism, is really the language of Ashkenazic Jews. Sephardic Jews have their own language; Ladino, which was based on Spanish and Hebrew.

At Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum we learned about the Romaniotes. An obscure branch of Judaism of which few Jews have ever heard, with traditions dating back to Roman times. After the destruction of the Second Temple, these Jews were sent on a slave ship to Rome. A storm forced them to land in Greece, where over the next 2000 years they developed uniquely different ethnic and religious customs.

A skylight in the roof provides light down onto the street level

It was at the Greek reunion where I also learned, by attempting to sit with Bill, that men and women are seated separately in Orthodox synagogues. And it was there, when the family was attending a Sabbath service, that I found myself seated beside two elderly ladies of the local congregation. When I noticed the large numbers tattooed on their bare forearms the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.

The woman's balcony, housing amazing artifacts, overlooks the lower level

Josh Weinberger was our honoured family member who held one of the precious, old Torahs

Marcia Ikonomopoulos described the story of the Romaniote Jews, from their entry into Greece in the first century to their current life in America. She spoke passionately about the town of Janina, in northwestern Greece from whence the synagogue takes its name. And then she opened the cabinet to show us their spectacular Torah scrolls.

Marcia had my undivided attention 

And here we are at the conclusion of the tour ... all this before lunch at Ben's Deli!


  1. Thanks for writing this Alice - the hairs on the back of my own neck stood on end when I read that bit about the two old when we passed the railway station where they were taken away from...

    Now I'm on my own I've toyed with the idea of reverting back to the Saltiel name - but maybe not, for lots ofreasons...and Saltiel-O'Callaghan would be just too much! Jacky x

    1. Thanks for reading, enjoying and commenting, Jacky.
      I understand why you wouldn't want to drop O'Callaghan AND about Saltiel-O'Callaghan being a mouthful! But really how much longer is it than Saltiel-Marshall? Two letters and an apostrophe! ;-)

  2. Truly a fascinating story, Alice - I'm so glad you decided that you weren't finished with the reunion aspect of NYC yet!

    Your photo of the cemetery had my eyes fixed on those old headstones. Old cemeteries are fascinating to me, and the more so as I age - it must have been wonderful to read the inscriptions and dream of those storied lives.

    The Chinatown synagogue looks rich in both history and unique tradition. Coupled with your story of your first experience in an Orthodox synagogue, it is compelling reading. It made MY hair stand on end. And I had never heard of the Romaniote Jews. There are more things on heaven and earth...

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful journey here for us.

    1. Thanks, Win. At the cemetery I found myself scattered and not really able to focus on the writings all that well. I can't really say why. It wasn't only because the carved words were in Hebrew (and also in English) or that in many cases parts were obliterated with the passage of time and the acid rain of NYC. It was all just a bit other worldly.

      This reunion (like the others) has really impacted me and the telling of it is surely aids the etching of permanent memories!

  3. You realize thus considerably when it comes to this matter, made me personally believe it from so many varied angles. Its like women and men don’t seem to be involved until it is something to accomplish with Girl gaga! Your own stuffs outstanding. Always care for it up!