Judaism Returns to Sicily

Until the expulsion of its Jews in 1493, Sicily—then a Spanish province—was very much at the center of Jewish life in Italy. Afterward, many Jews who had undergone conversion to Christianity in order to remain in Sicily continued to practice their religion in secret. Some of their descendants today recall nominally Catholic family members preserving such Jewish customs as lighting candles on Friday evening. On January 12—the anniversary of the expulsion—the city of Palermo opened a synagogue, the island’s first in a half-millennium. Rossella Tercatin writes:

The first traces of Jewish presence in Sicily date back to the 1st century CE, and in the 15th century there were already between 25,000 and 40,000 Jews living on the island, spread out over dozens of communities—more than in the numerous states and kingdoms on the Italian peninsula combined. . . . Five-hundred years [after Judaism was outlawed], many Sicilians have started to figure out the origin of their apparently bizarre family customs and are interested in learning more. National and international Jewish organizations have come to help. . . .

Every year on January 12, a conference is held in Palermo on a topic related to the Jewish history of Sicily. . . . [At this year’s conference, in] the presence of a small but passionate group of Jews, the archdiocese of the city donated the building of the Oratory of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Sabato to the Jewish community. . . .

“The facility is located in the complex of the monastery of San Nicola da Tolentino, at the heart of the ancient Jewish neighborhood, where the synagogue used to stand,” explains the former chief rabbi of Naples, Pierpaolo Pinhas Punturello, who is deeply involved with Palermo’s Jewish community. “The great scholar Obadiah of Bertinoro called it ‘the most beautiful in Europe’ when he visited it in 1487.”

Read more at Times of Israel

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

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