Mikveh in Syracuse, Italy
Mikveh in Syracuse, ItalyIsrael news photo: courtesy of Shavei Israel

Dozens of Marranos (known in Hebrew as Bnei Anousim) in southern Italy and Sicily have gathered for a seminar to return to their roots.

They and other people of Jewish descent from across the region gathered Tuesday and Wednesday in the city of Syracuse to explore their Jewish heritage.

The seminar, the first of its kind, was organized by the Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel organization together with the Union of Italian Jewish Committees (UCEI), the Jewish community of Naples and the Sicilian Sephardic Center.

Entitled “The New Frontier of Italian Judaism,” the gathering included lectures and classes on a range of Jewish cultural and religious subjects.

Also included was a walking tour of Jewish historical sites in the Giudecca (old Jewish quarter) of Syracuse. One of the sites featured was the ancient Mikveh (ritual pool), said to be the oldest ever discovered in Europe.

Among those leading the seminar was Rabbi Roberto Della Rocca, director of the Education and Culture Department for the UCEI; Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum, Chief Rabbi of Turin and rabbi of Shavei Israel; Rabbi Shalom Bahbout, Chief Rabbi of Naples; Dr. Gadi Piperno, UCEI project manager; and Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel.

Participants came from across Sicily, as well as the southern Italian regions of Puglia and Calabria.

Freund noted that this year marks the 500th anniversary of the first Auto-de-Fe in Sicily, when the Inquisition executed nine Marranos in Palermo in June 1511 for secretly practicing Judaism.

“Five centuries later, we have come here to declare that the Inquisition did not succeed in its efforts to eradicate Judaism,” Freund said.