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

Tuesday, January 12th, 2021

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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Rocco Forte Hotels makes Puglia debut

Sunday, May 5th, 2019

PRESS RELEASE: Rocco Forte Hotels has opened the doors to Masseria Torare Maizz. Following a significant renovation, the stylish retreat combines Rocco Forte’s signature Anglo-Italian style of service, warmth and hospitality with a contemporary, modern design in Italy’s most exciting destination, Puglia.

Set in the charming area of Savelleteri di Fasano, along the Adriatic coast and surrounded by ancient olive groves, the resort is an original farmhouse dating back to the 16th century.

An investment of over six million euros has brought the property back to its natural beauty. The resort now features 40 lavish suites all with stunning views of the Apulian countryside, including the addition of the magnificent two-bedroom Torre Suite, located on the top floor of the masseria’s original tower. Olga Polizzi, Director of Design for Rocco Forte Hotels, has worked with local artisans to restore the masseria by combining local heritage with a contemporary design to create a sense of modern Italian elegance.

Using local Apulian ingredients, the celebrated chef and Creative Director of Food for Rocco Forte Hotels, Fulvio Pierangelini. has crafted a menu of authentic Italian dishes for the hotel’s restaurant, Carosello, that overlooks the ancient orchard, the poolside restaurant and the sunset rooftop bar. The romantic Apulian countryside and the resort’s gardens provide the perfect backdrop for weddings and private events.

Guests have a variety of amenities to choose from while staying at the resort including a 20-meter pool, a 9-hole executive golf course, access to a private beach club, fitness center and spa treatments at the Rocco Forte Spa. Tailor-made experiences and excursions are available and can be created by the concierge for guests to discover the wonders of Puglia.

Commenting on the opening, Sir Rocco Forte, CEO and Chairman of Rocco Forte Hotels, said, “Masseria Torre Maizza is a small gem which I am particularly proud of. It holds all the charm, character and flavors of southern Italy, offering guests a unique perspective on the local treasures.”

Click HERE for further information.

Photo: Masseria Torre Maizza, a Rocco Forte Hotel in Puglia, is now open and accepting reservations.

Region of Puglia broadening tourism promotion in U.S. market for 2019

Monday, January 14th, 2019

For the first time, the Region of Puglia will be represented at The New York Times Travel Show, taking place Jan. 25-27 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. In advance of the event, Puglia Promozione, the region’s official tourism office, placed the accompanying full-page ad in the Jan. 13 edition of The New York Times Magazine.

According to the event website, “The 2019 New York Times Travel Show – now in its 16th year – will … be open to over 22,000 consumer travelers, as well as to travel professionals and media. The three-day showcase will feature global cuisine tastings, cultural performances, travel book signings, one-on-one conversations with travel experts and special discounts and offers for consumers of all ages from over 600 exhibitors.”

The Region of Puglia’s Councilor for Tourism and Culture, Loredana Capone, told Agenzia Internazionale Stampa Estero (AISE), “We look with great interest and sympathy to the U.S. market. American tourists who choose Puglia are growing exponentially. … The Americans who visit Puglia love the small villages, the cities of art and the farms. ‘Roots’ tourism is constantly growing among the communities of the Pugliesi of America; the growing notoriety of Puglia beyond the Atlantic Ocean pushes many Italian-Americans to rediscover their roots in the communes of origin. The American tourists are those who most appreciate Puglia even out of season. … It is the right time to promote Puglia in the U.S.”

Masseria Torre Maizza Now Taking Reservations for May 2019

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

PRESS RELEASE: Masseria Torre Maizza, a new Rocco Forte Hotel on the glamorous Italian Adriatic coast in Puglia, will open its doors in May 2019.

Located in the picturesque area of Savelletri di Fasano, this lush retreat marries natural beauty with Italian elegance. Once a historic 16th century farmhouse, the resort will have 40 spacious rooms and suites beautifully furnished by local artisans and designed by Olga Polizzi, Director of Design for Rocco Forte Hotels. Each room or suite will have its own private garden and views of the Apulian countryside. The new Presidential Suite will take up residence in the watch tower and offer breathtaking views over secular olive groves leading to the coast.

The resort will have a wealth of local and exclusive tailor-made experiences to choose from as well as a spa, a 9-hole golf course, a 20m pool and a private beach club. A range of fitness and wellness activities and an exciting kids club will add to the offering.

Using local ingredients, Creative Director of Food for Rocco Forte Hotels, Fulvio Pierangelini, brings his inspiration and international experience to the stylish restaurant, pool bar and sunset rooftop bar.

Masseria Torre Maizza will reopen in May 2019 after a full refurbishment promises an authentic Apulian experience that is true to the Rocco Forte philosophy. Commenting on the reopening, Sir Rocco Forte, Chairman of Rocco Forte Hotels says: “Puglia is one of Italy’s greatest treasures, a land of extraordinary architecture, color, intense flavors and untouched nature. Masseria Torre Maizza is a beautiful place which combines all the deepest traditions and revelations of Puglia and we look forward to offering an experience that combines the highest levels of Rocco Forte service and hospitality in a place of character and unique beauty.”

Located only 40 minutes from Brindisi Airport or 50 minutes from Bari Airport, Masseria Torre Maizza is the perfect resort to explore the enchanting region of Puglia.

Book now and take advantage of the opening offer: For a minimum booking of three nights, your choice between an authentic cooking lesson using the best local produce or a 40 minute massage in the new Forte Spa, in-room VIP amenities and complimentary upgrade, subject to the availability.

Rates start from €530 excluding VAT, breakfast is included. Offer valid for bookings made by March 15 and for travel dates between June 1 and July 31, 2019.

To book: /promotions/promotion/masseria-torre-maizza-opening-offer/masseria-torre-maizza/

Pope Francis schedules visits to 3 Puglia sites

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

Pope Francis is planning pastoral visits to three towns in Puglia ˗ to San Giovanni Rotondo (Province of Foggia) on March 17 and to Alessano (Province of Lecce) and Molfetta (Province of Bari) on April 20.

The pope’s visit to the shrine of Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina in San Giovanni Rotondo (in the Diocese of Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo) is to observe the100th anniversary of the saint receiving the stigmata and the 50th anniversary of his death. Earlier in the day, the pontiff will visit the saint’s birthplace of Pietrelcina, a town in the Campania region. The saint was born in Pietrelcina on May 25, 1887, and died on September 23, 1968, at the Capuchin monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo.

On March 17, according to the Holy See Press Office, Pope Francis will arrive by helicopter at the sports field of San Giovanni Rotondo at 9:30 A.M., to be met by Archbishop Michele Castoro of the Diocese of Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo and Costanzo Cascavilla, the mayor of San Giovanni Rotondo. The pope will then visit the pediatric cancer ward at the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (Home for Relief of the Suffering), the hospital founded by Saint Padre Pio. At 11 o’clock, a Eucharistic Concelebration of the Holy Mass will take place in the square of the San Pio da Pietrelcina Church, followed by an address by Archbishop Castoro. The Holy Father will then meet the Capuchin community and a group of faithful before departing at 12:45 P.M.

Previous papal visits to San Giovanni Rotondo were made by Pope Saint John Paul II in May 1987 and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in June 2009.

Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to Alessano, in the Diocese of Ugento-Santa Maria Di Leuca, and Molfetta, in the Diocese of Molfetta-Ruvo-Giovinazzo-Terlizzi, will mark the 25th anniversary of the death of Bishop Tonino Bello, who was named bishop of Molfetta-Johnovinazzo-Terlizzi in 1982 and three years later was chosen by Italian Bishops’ Conference as president of the international Catholic peace movement Pax Christi. Bishop Bello, popularly known as “Don Tonino,” was born in Alessano on March 18, 1935, and died in Molfetta on April 20, 1993.

This April 20, the pope will arrive at the military airport of Galatina, Lecce, at 8:20 A.M. and travel by helicopter to Alessano, where he will land 10 minutes later and be driven to the Cemetery of Alessano, to be welcomed by Bishop Vito Angiuli of Ugento and Francesca Torsello, the mayor of Alessano.

The Holy See Press Office reports that Pope Francis will visit the tomb of Bishop Bello, then greet members of the bishop’s family before delivering an address to the faithful. The pope departs Alessano at 9:30 and arrives by helicopter 45 minutes later near the Cathedral of Molfetta, where he will be welcomed by Bishop Domenico Cornacchia of the Diocese of Molfetta-Ruvo-Giovinazzo-Terlizzi and Mayor Tommaso Minervini. A Eucharistic Concelebration of the Holy Mass takes place at 10:30, after which the pope will meet a delegation of local residents. He will depart Molfetta at noon.

Photo: Bronze of Saint Padre Pio by Francesco Messina.
Photo by Paola Ghirotti/Copyright © Fototeca ENIT

“InPuglia365 ‒ Flavors and Autumn Colors” is back for 2017 season

Saturday, November 18th, 2017

From InPuglia365: Beginning this weekend, the latest “InPuglia365 ‒ Flavors and Autumn Colors” program features plenty of free activities for travelers and residents in all areas of Puglia that relate to food and tourism. Many activities take place in all six provinces of Puglia every weekend until the end of December. Autumn in Puglia is full of opportunities to experience all the territories and live a truly unique and fascinating season.

“We have encouraged Pugliesi tourism companies to develop routes that revolve around food and the rural landscape, with its beauty natural and archeology and creative arts (theater, photography and music),” comments Councilor for Tourism and Culture Industry Loredana Capone. “The programs are many and all are very interesting, innovative and creative and they promote the Puglia lifestyle, so we bring to life the Puglia region with a quality tourist offering based on culture, food and sport, guaranteeing a good welcome to the tourists who have been enthusiastic about coming outside of the seaside season as well.”

Activities include guided tours and special openings, routes, workshops, ecotourism and sports activities.

Click here for a full list of the activities being offered:

Photo by Vito Arcomano/Copyright © Fototeca ENIT

“Barese Icemen” documentary to be shown at Calandra Institute Feb. 22

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017


The documentary “The Barese Icemen of New York” will be shown at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, at 6 P.M.

Produced in 2015, the 80-minute documentary follows the story of the Italian immigrants from the Region of Puglia who from the 1920s to the 1960s dominated the making and delivery of ice in New York City.

Interviews with former icemen and their families as well as individuals who currently work in the ice business shed interesting light on this niche occupation. What was it like lugging 100 pounds of ice up four flights of tenement stairs? Why did this trade remain lucrative throughout the Great Depression? How did many of these icemen transition into coal and oil delivery after household refrigerators became the norm?

Director Carlo Magaletti, himself Barese, looks at these topics in this exploration of how Pugliesi came to dominate the ice business.

A post-screening discussion will be led by Mark Naison of Fordham University.

The John D. Calandra Italian American Institute is located at 25 West 43rd Street, 17th floor (between 5th and 6th Avenues), in Manhattan.

The event is free and open to the public. Please RSVP by calling 212-642-2094. Seating is limited, and seats cannot be reserved. Click here for further information.

The Calandra Institute is a university-wide institute under the aegis of Queens College, The City University of New York.

Record tourism arrivals in Puglia: region hosts 13% more international travelers in 2016

Saturday, December 31st, 2016

Credit expanded international airline service, a larger portfolio of luxury accommodations, publicity surrounding high-profile visitors or an influx of travelers from new source markets; whatever the reason, Puglia is attracting more foreign visitors than ever before.

A report from the Osservatorio del Turismo (Observatory of Regional Tourism) states that international tourism to Puglia is booming, with arrivals of overseas visitors up 13% for the first 10 months of 2016, with stays of at least one night growing 8.4% compared to 2015, as reported in La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno. Vacations in Puglia by Italians from other regions also increased. Gargano and Salento remain the most popular tourist areas, together accounting for 68% of overnight stays, the reports states.

And that’s despite fears expressed earlier this year that refugees from the Middle East would flood Puglia after a route between Greece and northern Europe was closed. At the time, it was feared that as many as 150,000 refugees would find their way to Puglia this year and adversely impact the region’s tourism industry.

When I began promoting tourism to Puglia more than 15 years ago, few Americans had ever heard of the region. Even some Italian Americans who knew that their family roots were “Barese” did not realize that they were referring to the city or province by the same name within the Region of Puglia. I was even kidded for devoting so much attention to such an obscure place. Well, times have changed.

Pierangelo Argentieri, president of Federalberghi Brindisi and regional vice president, tells La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno, “It is clear that these data are the result of the increase in flight connections that in the last two years have grown exponentially. Certainly, also contributing were the arrival of big international stars like Madonna or the story of the dream weddings celebrated in the most exclusive farmhouses of Savelletri.” Also, he says, it is no coincidence that the range of accommodations “has increased by 9.7%” in the first 10 months of 2016, particularly in the luxury segment of the market. Also increasing was the number of agriturismo properties (farms that accommodate visitors), vacation homes and apartments and bed-and-breakfast inns.

The Osservatorio del Turismo identifies the “strategic foreign markets” for Puglia as mainly Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, but the region is also seeing an influx of vacationers from the United States, Poland and the Netherlands, as well as China, South Korea, Australia and Argentina. While much of the growth in intercontinental travel is attributed an increase in direct flights to Puglia, Argentieri says the increase in U.S. visitors is also a “stimulated phenomenon from the fallout of (Puglia’s) image in the major international journals.” Also, he says, “It is not to be underestimated that even the settlement of large U.S. companies such as Boeing in Grottaglie which in recent years has resulted in an enormous number of managers who have become the best testimonial of Puglia in their country.”

Even the major tour operators are taking notice. A decade ago, few if any of them offered Puglia packages, citing a lack of interest among travelers and unavailability of quality accommodations and services. Now, for example, the U.S.-based tour operator Tauck sells out its “A Week in Puglia” itinerary priced from $3,990 per person. A variety of other tour operators host trips to Puglia, many of them focused on specialty activities such as bicycling, hiking, history and food and wine. And the region’s official tourism bureau, Pugliapromozione, provides plenty of information to educate travelers about Puglia’s vacation possibilities.

Puglia adopts new standards for certifying tourist guides and tour leaders

Friday, September 30th, 2016


To further professionalize Puglia’s tourism industry, the Region of Puglia Regional Council has approved new requirements for certifying professional tourist guides and tour leaders. Resolution n.1510, published in the Official Bulletin of the Puglia Region, was adopted at the council’s September 28 meeting.

According to a press release from the Regional Council, those wishing to become certified as tourist guides or tour leaders must:

• Possess a diploma of secondary education of the second degree (five-year) or a diploma obtained abroad that is recognized by Italian authorities.

• Pass an examination in at least one foreign language chosen by the candidate.

• Pass a written test (multiple-choice questions) and an oral examination.

In addition, those who have already achieved the qualification and want to obtain a permit to operate in another language can take the foreign language examination (oral only).

The changes take effect October 11. An application to become a professional tourist guide and tour leader must be submitted online at by November 10.

Culinary Institute of America to launch Italian Cuisines concentration at ancient castle in Puglia

Thursday, August 18th, 2016


Press release: Future chefs and food business leaders studying at The Culinary Institute of America can now immerse themselves in an academic concentration in Italian cuisines and culture that includes a 15-week study trip to Italy.

The concentration for students pursuing CIA bachelor’s degrees in management features a semester abroad at the Castello di Ugento, a newly restored 900-year-old castle in Puglia, the heel of Italy’s “boot.” The program begins in January 2017 in collaboration with the Puglia Culinary Center and will be offered in both spring and fall semesters.

In addition to learning about Italian culture, indigenous ingredients and culinary techniques, the CIA students traveling to Italy for the program will participate in “field trips” to markets, wineries and local producers of products such as olive oil and cheese. Each student will also complete a three-week internship at a restaurant serving authentic Mediterranean cuisine.

“In the Italian Cuisines concentration, students will cook and learn within the historical and cultural contexts of southern Italy,” says CIA Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Michael Sperling. “They will interact with chefs, growers, and food producers, and participate in the restaurant culture of Puglia. It is truly an immersion into that region.”

The student “dorm” is a restored 18th century farmhouse in the city of Ugento, a 10-minute bike ride from the castle where their classes will be held. Cooking classes take place in a new 8,500-square-foot environmentally sustainable teaching kitchen within the castle.

The restored Castello also has an area dedicated to teaching desserts and gelato, an “oleoteca” to study olive oil and a 400-year-old wine cellar retrofitted with modern oenology technology. More than 100 varieties of herbs and fruits are harvested from a 300-year-old garden on the property.

“To be a true chef of Italian cuisine, you must master all the different techniques, tastes, and textures of the cuisines of the various Italian regions. The cuisine of Puglia, with its use of vegetables and fish, became the basis for other Mediterranean cuisines,” says Odette Fada, house chef and director of the Puglia Culinary Center. “I am delighted to be part of this collaboration with the CIA and look forward to sharing my enthusiasm for this land and its cuisine with our international guests.”

“This newest CIA education program continues to expand both the international and domestic learning opportunities available to CIA students,” Dr. Sperling says. “The world cuisines concentrations allow students to learn about cuisines in their own terroir. During their semester away from campus, they fully experience the regions from which the ingredients come.”

Photo courtesy of The Culinary Institute of America