The Revival of Sicilian Jewry

Nov. 21 2022

Sicily was home to some of the first Jewish communities in Western Europe, likely founded before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Then the island’s Jews, like many of its residents at the time, were Greek speakers, and they remained so for centuries. At the end of the first millennium, Sicilian Jews enjoyed close proximity to Bari and Otranto—great centers of rabbinic scholarship on the southern part of the Italian mainland. Diana Furchtgott-Roth reports on Sicilian Jewry’s recent revival, and the extinction that preceded it:

Jews in Sicily celebrated traditional Sabbath services for the first time in 500 years last month when Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Washington, DC delivered a Torah to the newly established synagogue in Catania. Having been expelled from Spanish territory, which then included Sicily and southern Italy, by Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon in 1492, many Jews fled. Those who remained were compelled to convert to Catholicism. But Herzfeld’s visit changed the trajectory of Jewish history in Sicily.

Located on the top floor of the city-owned castle of Leucatia, the new synagogue has a capacity of about 100 and suits its setting perfectly. Its floor-to-ceiling doors open to a large terrace with views of the sea to one side and views of Mount Etna, the volcano with its smoking plumes, to the other. Windows opposite the doors admit a constant sea breeze.

Rabbis from three countries officiated at the October 28 transfer of the Torah to Catania’s synagogue, and people came from as far away as Uruguay, Israel, and America, as well as from all over Italy, to witness and participate in the historic event. Some Sicilians are discovering their Jewish roots and welcomed the opportunity to learn about Judaism and connect with their religious community. A handful have even converted to Judaism. In stark contrast to Sicily’s former persecution of Jews, Catania’s authorities facilitated the dedication of the new synagogue and provided a visible police force to protect the Jewish worshipers.

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Read more at City Journal

More about: Italian Jewry, Sicily, Spanish Expulsion, Synagogues

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror