From “Heel” to “Toe” of the Italian Boot: The Secret Jews of Southern Italy

The United Pugliesi Federation presents a Zoom lecture, From “Heel” to “Toe” of the Italian Boot: The Secret Jews of Southern Italy, by Rabbi Barbara Aiello on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021, at 2 pm Eastern time.

Welcome to Southern Italy – to our hidden mountain villages where ancient olive trees dot the landscape, bright bouquets of tropical flowers burst around every corner, and where Jewish traditions, long hidden, are just now coming to life.

For nearly two thousand years Jews have had a presence in the “heel” of the Italian” boot”, in the Region of Puglia. Unknown to many, the Jews of Puglia have a rich rabbinic tradition which includes the world-renowned Rabbi Isaac Abrabanel who lived and worked in Puglia after his expulsion from Spain in 1492. Several years later, when the Inquisition arrived, Jews were persecuted – specifically the Jews of Lecce were massacred – which prompted many Jewish families to take their Jewish traditions underground as they practiced in secret as crypto-Jews. Today Jews worship openly in the Scolanova Synagogue which was rededicated in the city of Trani in 2006.

Calabria, the southernmost Italian region located in the “toe” of the Italian “boot,” is not only the rabbi’s ancestral home but her tiny mountain village of Serrastretta boasts the first active synagogue in Calabria in 500 years since Inquisition times. It is here in synagogue Ner Tamid de Sud (“The Eternal Light of the South”) where local Italians, along with Italian-Americans and Italian-Canadians, have gathered to discover their lost Jewish traditions and to begin their journey to embrace their hidden Jewish roots.
From “heel to toe” on the Italian “boot,” rich Jewish traditions, kept secret for centuries are coming to light. Join Rabbi Aiello as we uncover an amazing Jewish heritage– a secret flame that never died.

Rabbi Barbara Aiello is the first woman rabbi and first non-orthodox rabbi in Italy. She is the founding rabbi of Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sud, the first active synagogue in Calabria in 500 years. The synagogue is a recognized affiliate of the Reconstructing Judaism movement, the first RRC synagogue in Italy and the second in Europe.

Rabbi Aiello has written extensively about her crypto-Jewish background and her efforts to uncover the hidden Jewish traditions of Calabrian and Sicilian Jews that date back to Inquisition times. She has shared her story as scholar-in-residence at synagogues and community centers from Boston to Los Angeles, Winnipeg and Toronto.

Her work in the deep south of Italy and in Sicily includes directing the Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria (IjCCC), an organization dedicated to the b’nei anusim of southern Italy to help them discover and embrace their Jewish roots. She is a board member of Kulanu, an international organization that supports lost and isolated Jewish communities worldwide and serves as mentoring rabbi for Darshan Yeshiva, a Jewish online distance learning program that leads to formal conversion.

To join the Zoom meeting:

Meeting ID: 851 1898 2303
Passcode: 102681
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