Praying for Keeps
As Manhattan’s Greek Jewish population dwindles, a sliver of a synagogue on the Lower East Side remains a spiritual home for a diverse Diaspora.
When Sol Kofinas came to New York from Athens in 1957, he was, like so many immigrants before him, in search of a better life. With the help of two aunts already living in New York, Kofinas settled on the Lower East Side among Jewish immigrants like himself.
Except that most weren’t like him. They had no clue how to prepare eggplant burekas or kasher a leg of lamb for Shabbat. Kofinas didn’t recognize the melodies they prayed to or the Yiddish they spoke. Knishes and gefilte fish were foreign to him, and the Jews Kofinas met in America certainly couldn’t trace their roots back 2,300 years from a slave ship bound for Rome, as he could.
I question, "these people are Jewish?” says Kofinas, laughing.
Usually, it was Kofinas who got that question.
Sol Kofinas, now seventy-six, is sitting in the sanctuary of Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue on Broome Street between Eldridge and Allen. Built in 1927 by Jews from the northwestern Greek city of Ioannina (Janina in English), w…