In Syracuse, an Ancient Jewish Community Is Revived

Feb. 15 2017

Once home to some of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe—which were eradicated five centuries ago—Sicily is now experiencing a rebirth of Judaism. S. D’I. and Erasmus describe what has occurred in one Sicilian city:

In 1492, Sicily’s once-flourishing Jewish community was expelled by the Spanish monarchs that held sway over the island; some fled to the nearby kingdom of Naples but they were soon driven out of that realm, too, and duly headed eastward to the comparative safety of Ottoman territory.

Small wonder, then, that among the 40,000 or so Jews who now live in Italy, only a handful are to be found anywhere south of Rome. In locations like the Giudecca (Jewish quarter) of Syracuse, an ancient Sicilian port, place-names and Hebrew inscriptions are among the few obvious reminders that the religion of ancient Israel was once practiced here. . . . Before [the expulsion of] 1492, the port had twelve synagogues and 5,000 Jews; that faith and culture have been undergoing a modest but determined local revival, as some long-dormant collective memories come to the surface.

Some people date the rebirth to the discovery in Syracuse in 1987 of a mikveh, a Jewish ritual bath, which may be among the oldest in Europe. That was one of things which inspired Stefano Di Mauro, an Orthodox Sephardi rabbi who had spent most of his life in America, to return to his native Sicily in 2007. Now the synagogue he founded, which is housed in a nondescript building but boasts a canopy, can count on crowds of 50 people or more at festivals and rites of passage. For more routine weekly services, the worshippers often number twelve to fifteen, just about satisfying the minyan or quorum of ten men. . . .

Many of the faithful tell remarkable stories about the way they embraced Judaism because of half-remembered family traditions. In Jewish terms, the community members seem mostly to be Bnei Anusim, the “children of the forced [converts]”: in other words, descendants of those who [in 1492] converted at least superficially to Christianity as a way to avoid expulsion.

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Read more at Economist

More about: Conversos, History & Ideas, Italian Jewry, Sicily

How China Equips the Islamic Republic to Repress Its People

In its dedication to bringing totalitarianism into the 21st century, the Chinese Communist party has developed high-tech forms of surveillance using facial-recognition software, a vast system of “social credit,” and careful control over its subjects’ cellular phones. Even stricter and more invasive measures are applied to the Uyghurs of the northwestern part of the country. Beijing is also happy to export its innovations in tyranny to allies like Iran and Russia. Playing a key role in these advances is a nominally private company called Tiandy Technologies. Craig Singleton describes its activities:

Both Tiandy testimonials and Chinese-government press releases advertise the use of the company’s products by Chinese officials to track and interrogate Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang province. According to human-rights groups, Chinese authorities also employ Tiandy products, such as “tiger chairs,” to torture Uyghurs and other minorities.

Iran has long relied on China to augment its digital surveillance capabilities, and Tehran was an early adopter of Beijing’s “social-credit” system, which it wields to assess citizens’ behavior and trustworthiness. . . . Iranian government representatives have publicized plans to leverage smart technologies, including AI-powered face recognition, to maintain regime stability and neutralize dissent. Enhanced cooperation with China is central to those efforts.

At present, Tiandy is not subject to U.S. sanctions or export controls. In light of Tiandy’s operations in both Xinjiang and Iran, policymakers should consider removing the company, its owner, and stakeholders from the international financial system and global supply chains.

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Read more at FDD

More about: China, Human Rights, Iran, Totalitarianism, U.S. Foreign policy