Thessaloniki’s mayor wants his Greek city to remember its vibrant Jewish past

A street in the Ladadika neighborhood, which used to be the Jewish quarter in Thessaloniki, Greece. (Wikimedia Commons)
WASHINGTON (JTA) – “I am proud to be a Vlach,” says Yiannis Boutaris, the mayor of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city.

Ostensibly, we’re here at the Washington Hilton to discuss Boutaris’ bid to put the Jewish back in Thessaloniki, a city — perhaps best known as Salonika —once home to the largest numbers of Jews in Greece.

But I’m the one who brought up the Vlachs, a dwindling minority of speakers of an ancient Latin dialect, scattered throughout the Balkans. When he ambles over, I greet him with the “Ci fac?” I have learned from my wife’s family. Pronounced “Tzi fatz,” it more or less means “what’s up?”

His eyes widen a little. “Gini!” he says, he’s fine. He looks at his aide, Leonidas Makris, with a look that suggests, “I thought you told me this guy was Jewish?”

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