Jews have likely been living in Sicily since before the destruction of the Second Temple, and a community flourished there until, in 1492, the Spanish monarchy—which then ruled the island—decreed that all Jews in their lands must convert to Catholicism or leave. Now, descendants of those Jews are attempting a revival. David I. Klein writes:
Rabbi Gilberto Ventura believes his synagogue has the most beautiful view in the world. Located in the tower of a century-old castle on the slopes of Mt. Etna in the eastern Sicilian city of Catania, the synagogue is wedged between a snow-capped volcano and the sun-kissed Mediterranean Sea.
The forty-nine-year-old Brazil-born rabbi also thinks his congregation is one of the most unique in the world. It’s made up mainly of Bnei Anusim—descendants of Jews forced to hide their religious practice and convert to Catholicism after . . . 1492. Before that infamous decree, Sicily was home to tens of thousands of Jews. The synagogue, which was first inaugurated last fall, is the result of decades of grassroots efforts by those descendants in Catania to find each other and forge a sense of community that had been lacking for centuries.
Hiring a full-time rabbi was the last piece of the puzzle. . . . Ventura, who is Orthodox, might be the island’s first permanent working rabbi in over 500 years, but it’s not his first time working with Bnei Anusim.
Although many of the synagogue’s members have undergone formal conversion to Judaism, the community is still trying to obtain recognition from Italian Jewry’s central body.