For the first time in over 1,500 years, the ruins of a synagogue dating back to the 4th century in the Calabria area of southern Italy played host to a Jewish wedding this week.
Dr. Roque Pugliese and Dr. Ivana Pezzoli, both of whom are Bnei Anusim (descendants of Iberian Jews forcibly converted during the 14th and 15th centuries), were married earlier this week under the chuppah (Jewish wedding canopy) in an emotional and historic ceremony at the site of the synagogue, the second-oldest ever found in Europe.
Pugliese’s parents hid their Jewish roots while he grew up in Calabria and Argentina. Upon discovering his heritage, Pugliese decided to formally return to Judaism with assistance from the Shavei Israel organization.
While Pezzoli was raised with certain Jewish traditions in her family, she was never told why. Upon researching her family history, she found that she had Jewish roots and embarked on an extensive study of Judaism for more than eight years before undergoing formal conversion.
Pugliese and Pezzoli, both of whom are medics and met while working at a local hospital, are now living religiously observant Jewish lives.
The wedding took place Tuesday, June 4, in the archaeological park adjacent to the southern Italian seaside village of Bova Marina, where the remains of a synagogue were unearthed in 1983 during the construction of a road. Among the items discovered were a mosaic floor with colorful tiles portraying images of a menorah, a shofar, and a lulav and etrog, as well as a walled niche where the Aron Kodesh, or Holy Ark which contained Torah scrolls, once stood. The ruins face directly towards Jerusalem. Pugliese and Pezzoli chose the site for their traditional Jewish wedding as a tribute to their ancestors.
“It was a remarkably moving experience to watch Roque and Ivana get married under the chuppah amid the ruins of Bova Marina’s ancient synagogue,” said Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund, who assisted the couple with their return to their Jewish roots and was invited as a special guest.
“Their wedding symbolizes the eternity of the Jewish people and we hope it will inspire other descendants of Jews in southern Italy to return to their roots,” he noted. “Against all the odds, the Jewish spark in southern Italy and Sicily continues to glimmer after so many centuries. We must intensify our outreach efforts to the Bnei Anusim of southern Italy and help them to reconnect with their heritage.”
In addition to Freund, among those attending the wedding were Rabbi Giuseppe Momigliano, chief rabbi of Genova; Rabbi Elia Richetti of Milan and Naples; Rabbi Gad Fernando Piperno, the chief rabbi of Florence; and Mrs. Noemi Di Segni, President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI). The wedding was presided over by Rabbi Umberto Piperno, former Chief Rabbi of Naples. Dozens of Bnei Anusim from throughout southern Italy and Sicily came to Bova Marina to participate in the festivities.