SICILIAN ADVENTURE TOUR BY BILL GENOVA OCT 13TH TO 23RD.

JEWISH SICILIAN ARTICLE IN CANADIAN JEWISH NEWS BY BILL GENOVA

Home
SICILY WITH BILL GENOVA DNA SICILIAN
TOUR ITINERARY
COST FOR SICILIAN ADVENTURE TOUR
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE JEWISH PAST
JEWISH SICILIAN ARTICLE IN CANADIAN JEWISH NEWS BY BILL GENOVA
PHOTO ALBUM
VIDEO OF FURTHER PERSONAL RESEARCH TOUR
BACKGROUND ON SICILY
TOURS ALL YEAR ROUND
Contact Us

FIND A HIDDEN JEWISH HISTORY LESSON IN SICILY

(Published in the Canadian Jewish News, November 28, 2013)

 In 1492 Sicily was part of the Spanish Empire and as a result Jews and Muslims living there were told to convert or leave. There may have been as many as 20,000 to 50,000 Jews living in Sicily at the time. There were centered not only in cities such as Palermo, Messina, Trapani, Siracusa and other cities but in over 50 towns that had Jewish settlements call Guideccas. 

Jews have been in Sicily since the 2nd century B.C.E. Their initial arrival from Palestine was because Judah Maccabeus formed an alliance with Rome. In 70 A.C.E. Jews arrived in large numbers as many prisoners of war after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. In the earliest times, the largest Jewish communities were in the south especially Sicily. From the 8th to 15th century Jews survived through good times and bad under the many occupiers of Sicily.  They were active in the silk and cloth trade and in the practice of medicine. The majority were artisans: weavers, dyers, cobblers, silver workers, jewelry workers, blacksmiths, and carpenters. There were also philosophers, doctors and advisors to whoever was in power. 

Today unlike in the north of Italy, Spain and other countries there are no prominent physical signs from which you could infer that Jews once inhabited the island of Sicily in large numbers. One can see throughout Sicily signs of the past from the initial aboriginal people, Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Arab, Norman, Swabians, Argonese/Spanish and even American and English but no Jewish indication. No synagogue, ghetto or building could readily indentified as being Jewish. You would have to be told of a Jewish presence in the past and where it was and the stories of Jewish communities and individuals. Although there has been nothing visible to the uninitiated eye, but this is beginning to change. 

Sicilians are now making an effort formally and informally to discover their Jewish past. Numerous hidden objects, hidden places, little centers and hamlets that were once home to Jews are now being rediscovered. With Pope Paul reaching out to the Jews by his visit to Rome's synagogue and the retraction that Jews were the Christ killers an atmosphere of interest now prevails. Sicilians want to know about their Jewish past. To this end increasingly scholars, archeologist, communities, and amateurs are uncovering the Jewish past of Sicily. 

If you visit Syracuse you will find in the main courtyard to the new Bellomo Gallery you can view three sizeable Jewish tombstones from the 15th century. Fifteen years ago in this same city when a B&B was being renovated they discovered a Mikvah that is now thought to be the oldest in Europe. In Palermo signs are posted in Italian, Hebrew and Arabic indicating the district where the Jews had lived. Also in Palermo in the Zisa a summer Norman palace you will find a tablet written in four languages including Hebrew. In Erice's museum you will find a Menorah on a clay lamp. In 1992 in the town of Salemi issued a proclamation inviting the Jews who been expelled some 500 years before in 1492 to return. They erected a marker with Jewish writing to emphasis that Jews were welcome. 

In Spain, out of 200,000 Jews 150,000 accepted banishment rather than convert to Christianity. In Sicily a different story occurred. Scholars believe that most of those leaving were poorer Jews while the richer Jews not wanting to leave their property and good lives opted for staying and converted, some turning their back on their Jewish past and others continuing their Judaism in a hidden manner. In Salemi of the thirty Jewish families only four families opted to leave, a special case and not typical. In San Marco 723 out of 728 Jews preferred to leave. In Castronovo 120 of 130. Who knows how many people of Jewish origin walk among Sicilians without knowing anything about their Jewish ancestors. 

When the expulsion edict came down the Spanish Vice Roy did not want to see the Jewish communities leave the island. At first he delayed the edict and petitioned the Spanish King and Queen not to enforce it. He was joined by many of the aristocracy and business interest in Sicily. It was delayed a year but finally implemented. On January 12th, 1493 the Jews left. There are recorded stories of Christian friends weeping at the docks as their Jewish friends left by ship to Calabria, Greece or North Africa. Some even went to Rome, where the Popes surprisingly adopted a protective attitude towards their new arrivals. Sicilians did not share Spain's severe damnation of Jews. 

The tempo of interest in Sicily's Jewish past continues to increase with scholarly research and tours now being offered. Recently in Salemi the province of Trapani a convention was organized to discuss the historical importance of Jewish communities in Sicily. The week-long convention, attended by important Catholic and lay personalities, represented a solid beginning that continues to grow of those things not destroyed by time and survive in  the documents that gather dust in towns and archives and libraries throughout Sicily. The Jews in the recent past did return to Sicily  and made a brief return on the eve of WWII and left or were interned. Today there are Jews once again in Sicily and with some detective work you can contact them in Palermo and Siracusa in order to attend services. Jewish Tours are also being offered by Rabbi Barbara Aiello and Bill Genova of Genova Tours.

 

*ALL TRAVEL ARRANGEMENTS BY ONTARIO SARRACINI TRAVEL TICO REGISTRATION NO. 50014459.

Personal tours with Bill Genova historian, tour guide and story teller as your host.