Friday, April 27, 2012

"I'm Italian. Could I be Jewish?"

Why, yes! You could be!

  Current research suggests that, yes, many Italian Americans have Jewish ancestry dating back to the time of the Expulsion from Spain. Through the Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria (IjCCC) and Calabria's first active synagogue in over 500 years, Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sud, you can find out the latest regarding Italians who say, "I've always felt Jewish."

A little background: "Timpone" is the Italian word for "ridge," and is the name given to the ancient Jewish quarter in Nicastro (the historical center of what is now known as Lamezia Terme, in Calabria, in the south of Italy).

Timpone marks a thriving Jewish presence which began in the 1200's and continued through the 1500's when Italian Jews perfected the silk and indigo trade that characterized their special contribution to the local economy.

Rachele Taverna
At the center of the Quarter, the old synagogue still stands, now transformed into a Catholic Church. But not completely. Historians believe that the window above the entrance was once a Magen David (Star of David) and, as was the custom in Inquisition times, three of the six points of the Star were left intact - an affectation that became an architectural standard throughout the south of Italy and a way of identifying those churches that once were synagogues.

Rachele Taverna, now nearly 100 years old, is one of the oldest residents of Timpone. "Si, nel tempo fa, siamo stati ebrei," ("Yes, in the past we were Jews"). Both her surname and given name attest to her Jewish roots.

Come visit the Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria located within Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sud (The Eternal Light of the South) the first active synagogue in Calabria and Sicily in 500 years since Inquisition times. It is in this very synagogue that I officiated at the first ever Bat Mitzvah in Italy (where a girl read directly from the Torah scroll) and the first acknowledged Bar Mitzvah in Sicily in 500 years.

Through the IjCCC, and with the help of a terrific staff, I'm committed to helping Italians and Italian-Americans discover and connect with their Jewish roots. For more information on Italian Jewish Roots and how you could begin your own discovery, visit my website.

1 comment:

  1. For what I know, by stories told in my family (PETITO), Jewish ancestry in Italy dates back to the first diasporas. For what I've learned, my ancestors sailed from Israel to the south of Italy -- at the time of Bar Kochba diaspora -- where they settled and integrated with the far more pervasive and dominating Christian-catholic culture, but the memory of the original root of my strain was never lost so far. To cross chek this, if you do , first you find that Petito is among the most common surnames in Israel, and if you input it in search field, you see that there are Petito in all major cities in Israel.
    Domenico PETITO