Rabbi Barbara Aiello, a first-generation Italian-American who became Italy’s first female rabbi and the founder of the first active synagogue in Calabria in over 500 years, is organizing a Jewish Heritage Tour focusing on Italy’s deep south.
The tour, ‘Southern Italy Through Jewish Eyes,’ is scheduled for October. Participants can choose either Part I — Calabria (Oct. 1-6), or Part II — Sicily (Oct. 5-10), or the full tour of both regions – 9 nights – Oct. 1 – 10.
One true ‘first’ promised on this tour: a Ferramonti Symposium where survivors of that WW II Italian concentration camp will share their emotional stories of conditions and events of the period under Mussolini’s rule. Participants will learn first-hand the incredible story of how nearly 4,000 Jewish inmates were saved by Italian soldiers and villagers.
A second ‘first’ will be the tour of the renovated and expanded synagogue, Ner Tamid del Sud, the first active synagogue in Calabria since Inquisition times, renovated by locals including Rabbi Barbara’s family.
Rabbi Barbara, as she likes to be known, describes herself as ‘a rabbi in two worlds.’ She divides her time between her congregation and a senior adult community in Sarasota, Florida, and officiating at Jewish life cycle events in Calabria. She has also worked in Milan and travels across Italy as a spokesperson for modern, pluralistic Judaism. She has officiated at more than 50 Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies for families from the US, Great Britain, Australia and Asia at Calabria’s newly restored synagogue. Rabbi Barbara’s father grew up in Calabria, her mother’s family hails from Sicily and the former Yugoslavia. She traces her roots to when her ancestors were expelled from Sicily during the 16th century Inquisition.
Asked who might want to take part in this historic tour, Rabbi Barbara says, “Jewish participants will learn about lost and isolated Jewish communities, which can strengthen Jewish identity. It’s eye-opening to learn about the tenacity and perseverance of southern Italian Jews who, even though forced into Christian conversion, kept their traditions alive by practicing in secret for centuries.”
Others who will be attracted to the trip are Italian-Americans, many of whom have ancestors who emigrated from Sicily and Calabria, regions that once boasted a 50% Jewish population.
“Few Italian-Americans know that even though Mussolini aligned with Hitler, Italian soldiers and villagers risked their lives to save Jewish neighbors,” The rabbi adds. “The Ferramonti story is a source of pride for Italians who are often embarrassed by the Italian government’s participation as a WW II Axis ally. We need to tell that story, that despite the political climate of the time, local Italians thumbed their noses at the government and refused to allow Jews to be sent to their death. Ours will be the first international group to tour the camp.”
The journey focuses on some of the oldest places of Jewish presence in Italy and the rebirth of modern Jewish life in Calabria – the’ toe’ of the Italian ’boot,’
While the Jewish community of Italy dates back at least to Roman times over 2,100 years ago, their fate changed based on the whims of emperors, popes, kings and dictators.
Highlights of the trip include:
Part 1 (Oct. 1-6)
• Walking tour of ‘Il Timpone’ – medieval Jewish Quarter in Nicastro; Tiriolo villages
• Symposium at Mussolini’s Ferramonti Concentration Camp with optional ‘March to Survival,’ museum tour, meeting with camp survivors
• Visit to Synagogue of Serrastretta; Traditional Calabrese Jewish dishes
• Excursion to Reggio Calabria and Bova Marina archaeological sites; view Jewish artifacts and statues from the ancient Greek period; Reggio’s Old Jewish Quarter
Part 2 (Oct. 6-10)
• Siracusa and Ortigia; walking tour of Jewish Quarter, 6th century mikveh, Greco-Roman Archaeological Zone; harbor cruise
• Mt. Etna by cable car; winery visit; Catania Jewish Quarter; Taormina and amphitheatre tour
Rabbi Aiello says, “Whatever your background, here’s a rare opportunity to see parts of Italy that few tourists visit, and to meet local residents and guest scholars who will share little-known stories and secrets of southern Italy. It truly is a chance of a lifetime – ancient venues that makes for wonderful memories.”
Guest scholars will include Professor Enrico Tromba, first archaeologist for the Bova Marina excavation project, and Professor Vincenzo Villella, historian who wrote the account of the Jews of Calabria. The trip is recommended for people who can keep up with a busy schedule and a good deal of walking. It is open to anyone of college age and older.
The tour is being coordinated by Ellen Paderson of Smiles and Miles Travel, who has worked with the rabbi on many Bar and Bat Mitzvahs in Italy and Laurie Weiss Howell of AmalfiLife tours who has organized several southern Italian tours with Rabbi Barbara. For more information, costs and or reservations, contact: Ellen Paderson, Travel Consultant, at email@example.com / 508-238-4088 www.smilesandmilestravel.com or Laurie Weiss Howell, 347-240-1244 / www.AmalfiLife.com.
Rabbi Aiello’s ‘The Radio Rabbi’ can be heard on Sundays at 8:30 a.m. on WLSS 930 AM in Sarasota. Click on Rabbi Barbara’s website, www.rabbibarbara.com to listen to a podcast of the radio program and to find out more about the tour.
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