Immigration of Jews (and Christians) from Ioannina to the United States by Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos

Immigration of Jews from Ioannina to the United States 

Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos 
Museum Director 
Kehila Kedosha Janina

During the massive wave of immigration the United States between 1881 and 1924, an estimated 15 million immigrants entered the country.  By all estimates, both Greek-Christian and Greek-Jewish immigrants were a small minority.  What is of interest is the fact, that according to the major source of official data (ship manifests) of those emigrants from Epirus, the greater majority appear to be Jews.  While the impetus to leave might have been the same, the dynamics of the emigration and the intentions varied.  While all emigrants shared the desire to find resources to improve their lives back in the old country, most Greek-Orthodox Christians thought of the move as temporary, the majority hoping to shortly return to live out their improved existence in Greece.  For most Greek-Jews the move was permanent.

For Jews, the dynamics of their lives during the period of immigration to the United States had to do with the parameters within which they lived.  They were a minority, both within the Ottoman Turkish world of pre-1912 Ioannina and within the Christian world of post-1913 Ioannina, when the city became part of Modern Greece.  Their place in society was set, leaving very little room for upward mobility.  This is not to say that there were not fairly affluent Yanniote Jews; certainly the family of Davijohn Levi was an example.  But, for the most part, the Jews of Ioannina were middle class merchants or small shop owners, trying to eke out a living and support their ever-growing large families.  Antiquated inheritance laws and the need to provide dowries for their marriageable daughters complicated their ability to survive.  For a young Jewish man in Ioannina, or the nearby Jewish communities in Arta and Preveza, emigration appeared to be the only means with which they could improve their lives.

The question arises as to whether their experiences and reasons for emigrating differed from those of their Greek-Orthodox Christian counterparts.  The fact that Jews in Ioannina emigrated at a proportionally higher rate than their Christian neighbors appears to point to the fact that there were other dynamics involved.  It is my hope that this paper will shed light on this question and paint a picture of Jewish emigration from Ioannina.  The main topics touched upon will be:  What was different in the experiences of Greek-Jews from Ioannina compared to that of Greek-Orthodox Christians that led to their emigration?  Was there a difference in the years of emigration and, if so, why?  From what ports did they leave?  Did they share the same destinations in the United States?  What influenced their areas of settlement in the United States?  In what occupations did they engage?  Since my main area of study has been the immigrant experience of Greek-speaking Jews from Ioannina, I will be able to speak extensively on their experiences but, unfortunately, only be able to superficially touch upon the experiences of Greek-Orthodox Christians from Ioannina.  This area must be left to those who are, hopefully, studying the non-Jewish experiences.