Secret Jews Uncovering Hidden Jewish History

Welcome to another episode of, Secret Jews, brought to you by Dr. Randi I Ross and the William David Company. Inspired by the documentary film, The Secret Jews Of Calabria, a story about Rabbi Barbara Aiello was created by producer Carl Perkal and IbexMotion film makers.

In this episode of Secret Jews Uncovering Hidden Jewish History entitled, Italy’s Crypto Jews Revive a Secret Passover Tradition – The Seder Haimshi”Rabbi Aiello talked about how five hundred years ago while Inquisition authorities were arresting, jailing and persecuting Spanish, Portuguese and Italian Jews for “judaizing” (practicing in secret), there were courageous Christian families who secretly opened their homes to Jews so that they could hold a Secret Passover seder on a night that would not arouse the suspicion of the Inquisition’s henchmen. That’s how the Hamishi Seder was born. Under the cover of darkness, deep in the basement rooms of their homes, and at great personal peril, Christians opened their doors to their Jewish neighbors, allowing them to kasher the space. With a table laden with symbolic Passover food and “pane azimo,” unleavened bread, our ancestors had the opportunity to hold their and hold their secret seder.

Some historians believe that the Russian painter, Moshe Maimon’s most famous work, “Marranos: Secret Seder,” actually tells the story of the Seder Hamishi, a special Passover seder, held, not on the first or second night of Passover, but, as its name suggests, on the fifth night of the holiday. Legend has it that during the time of the Inquisition, first in Spain, then in Portugal and finally on the islands of Sicily and Sardinia and into Italy’s mainland, Jews who had been forced into Christian conversion (b’nai anusim) were helped, surprisingly, by their Christian neighbors.

Dear Rabbi Barbara,

I attended your last live hangout on the Hamachi Seder and was fascianted with your schalorly presentation and love of our traditional past.  I look forward to leaning so much more from you.  ~Gershon


“Rabbi Barbara Aiello’s mission is to serve our Jewish “meshpucha” in ways that are exciting and exhilarating and meeting the needs of a modern world.”

The story, The Secret Jews Of Calabria, takes you on the incredible journey of the little know history of the Jews of southern Italy. Begining at the time of the Macabees, continues through the horrors of The Inquisition, and arrives at the modern day when Calabrians began to discover and embrace their Jewish roots.  When an American rabbi of Italian descent, Barbara Aiello, returns to her ancestral village in Calabria to encourage the locals to discover their Jewish heritage, not everyone (Jews and Christians) welcomes her. Rabbi Barbara takes you on this challenging journey through the “toe” of the Italian “boot,” as she shares the joys and struggles of the “bnei anusim,” – Italians whose families were forced into Christian conversion centuries ago. Obscure alley ways, secret rooms and hidden traditions come to life as locals share family stories of Jewish traditions that for centuries were hiding in plain sight. “I’m Italian but could I be Jewish too?” Rabbi Barbara’s journey courageously answers that question that has mystified southern Italians for centuries and offers a glimpse into a piece of Jewish history that has only recently come to light.
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