The Revival of Sicilian Jewry

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.

Read more at City Journal

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


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