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Catania synagogue marks one year of Sabbath services


This month Jews around the world will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. In Catania, Sicily, the Jewish community is preparing a special celebration commemorating the one-year anniversary of the return of traditional Sabbath services, which took place on Oct. 28, 2022.

Many of the Jewish community were expelled or fled from Spanish territory in 1492 by Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon. This territory included both Sicily and southern Italy. Those who remained were compelled to convert to Catholicism. However, all that changed on Oct. 28, 2022.

The community had renovated the top floor of the city-owned Castle of Leucatia Catania with the assistance of Catania native Baruch Triolo, secretary of the city’s Jewish community. Baruch Triolo noted the Catania synagogue originally belonged to a family of Jewish heritage whose only child, Angelina Mioccios, leapt to her death from the top-floor terrace in grief after a forced arranged marriage.

The new synagogue has a capacity of about 100 and has a perfect location. 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. Brazilian born Rabbi Gilberto Ventura leads the congregants during services.

Michael Ledeen, an American historian who has spent his life researching and writing on the history of Italian Jews, was instrumental in providing the synagogue with the Torah, a ritual object made for worship in a synagogue. He collaborated with Congregation Ohev Shalom in Washington, D.C., to secure the gift of the Torah which was presented to the new congregants by Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld in October of 2022.

Rabbis from three countries officiated at the transfer of the Torah to Catania’s synagogue. The service brought people from as far away as Israel, the United States and Uruguay, but was also attended by people from all over Italy who gathered to witness and share in this historic event.

“The rebirth of the Jewish community in Catania is a beautiful development,” Ledeen said, adding that he considers it a privilege to have played a part in the recovery.

Ironically, during World War II, the building was a Nazi headquarters. Today, an aura of sorrow no longer overshadows the Jewish community on the island. The establishment of Catania’s synagogue and the support from the Jewish community in Washington, DC and other communities lending support has ushered in a new era for Sicilian Jews.


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