In Syracuse, an Ancient Jewish Community Is Revived

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.

Read more at Economist

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

As Hamas’s Power Collapses, Old Feuds Are Resurfacing

In May, Mahmoud Nashabat, a high-ranking military figure in the Fatah party (which controls the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority), was gunned down in central Gaza. Nashabat was an officer in the Gaza wing of the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist outfit that served as Fatah’s vanguard during the second intifada, and now sometimes collaborates with Hamas. But his killers were Hamas members, and he was one of at least 35 Palestinians murdered in Gaza in the past two months as various terrorist and criminal groups go about settling old scores, some of which date back to the 1980s. Einav Halabi writes:

Security sources familiar with the situation told the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that Gaza is now also beleaguered by the resurgence of old conflicts. “Many people have been killed in incidents related to the first intifada in 1987, while others have died in family disputes,” they said.

The “first-intifada portfolio” in Gaza is considered complex and convoluted, as it is filled with hatred among residents who accuse others of killing relatives for various reasons, including collaboration with Israel. . . . According to reports from Gaza, there are vigorous efforts on the ground to contain these developments, but the chances of success remain unclear. Hamas, for its part, is trying to project governance and control, recently releasing several videos showcasing how its operatives brutally beat residents accused of looting.

These incidents, gruesome as they are, suggest that Hamas’s control over the territory is slipping, and it no longer holds a monopoly on violence or commands the fear necessary to keep the population in line. The murders and beatings also dimension the grim reality that would ensue if the war ends precipitously: a re-empowered Hamas setting about getting vengeance on its enemies and reimposing its reign of terror.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Fatah, Gaza War 2023, Hamas