Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sud – The Eternal Light of South ITALY

 

The first and only active synagogue in Calabria (south Italy)  in 500 years since Inquisition times

The first and only Italian synagogue dedicated to welcoming “b’nei anusim” to reclaim their Jewish roots

The first  and only recognized Reconstructionist synagogue in Italy

The second recognized Reconstructionist synagogue in Europe


Our History

The date was December 5, 2004 and I found myself in a place not often frequented by a Jewish rabbi  – the salon of a Catholic Church. I had just concluded a lecture on the lost Jews of Sicily and Calabria when a young woman pushed her way forward,  through the crowd that had gathered around me.

Monsignor Natale Colafati, who was now directing this animated group of Calabrisi to a side room, provided the impetus for this historic meeting. Opening the church to my lecture “La Judeka di Nicastro e la Storia degli Ebrei,” the Monsignor introduced my presentation by reminding the audience of more than 100 Calabresi how important it is to understand one’s history.  To my right on the dais sat a renowned professor, Vincenzo Villella, whose book about the Jews of Nicastro was one of only a very few volumes that acknowledged the ancient historical presence of the Jews in Calabria.

Even though my “lingua italiana” left much to be desired, the audience sat in rapt attention, completely absorbed by my family story. When the lecture concluded, I was stunned by the number of local Calabresi  who wanted to know more. That’s when the young woman demanded my attention. She grabbed my hand and whispered, “I have always felt Jewish but no ever believed that our family could be Jewish. Please help me.”

Her name was Antonella and when she told me her surname, I recognized at once that it one of many surnames listed in Inquisition records that indicated Jewish ancestry. Pressing Antonella’s hand between my own, I promised her that I would help her.  It was that promise that formed the basis of what was to become a more than decade long study of the thriving Jewish population that once graced hundreds of Calabrian villages and towns and a personal mission to serve those who wanted to know more.

As the first woman and first modern liberal rabbi in Italy, I had returned to Calabria, the land of my roots, where I had organized what was to become the first and only initiative to help southern Italians discover and embrace something that had been hidden from them for nearly 500 years. I had come to help them find their Jewish roots.

In Hebrew we say, “B’nai Anusim,” a phrase that means “the children of the forced ones.”  Forced?  How?  More than 500 years ago, during the time of the Inquisition our ancestors were forced to do one of two things; we were forced either to abandon our Jewish religion and submit to forced conversion, or we were expelled from our homes and villages.

As a “Bat Anusim” (daugher of the forced ones), I have personal experience with this tragedy.  My own ancestors, Spanish Jews, were forced to flee Toledo, Spain, then to Portugal, then to Sicily and finally to the mountains of Calabria to escape persecution, arrest or death.  In fact, my great grandmother, Angelarosa Grande was a direct descendant of Matteo de Grande, a “neofite” or “New Christian, whose property and goods were confiscated by the Inquisition authorities in the Sicilian town of Naro.  The family was arrested for “judaizing,” or practicing their Jewish traditions in secret.

Finally settling in the Reventino, in the tiny mountain village they called Serrastretta, my ancestors found a place to be Jewish, but given their frightening experiences, they chose to continue their clandestine observance. For centuries they lit candles on Friday evening, abstained for eating pork and, when a loved one died, they sat on low chairs and covered the mirrors throughout the house, ancient Jewish traditions they practice up to this day.

Itallians discover and embrace something that had been hidden from them for nearly 500 years. I had come to help them find their Jewish roots.

Thanks to a grant in 2006 by the Vuolo -Bernstein Foundation, a philanthropic group that supports Italian Jewish heritage, we were able to open and dedicate Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sud.

In 2007 Synagogue Ner Tamid del Sud hosts Tyler Waldman as  the first Bar Mitzvah in Calabria in 500 years

In 2010  our synagogue hosted  Charis Freiman –Mendel  as she becomes the first Bat Mitzvah in Calabria.  Held at Synagogue Ner Tamid del Sud and officiated by Rabbi Barbara, Charis is the first Bat Mitzvah in Calabrian history to read directly from the Torah scroll.

In 2013 Walter Aiello,who discovered his Italian Jewish roots in Serrastretta, became, at 69 years of age, our first adult Bar Mitzvah in our newly enlarged and renovated synagogue.

In 2017 Sinagoga Ner Tamid becomes a recognized member synagogue of the Reconstructionist  Jewish movement. We join 100 congregations as a part of  the fourth largest Jewish movement in the world and and the first major movement in Judaism to originate in North America.

 

Reconstructionist Judaism

Founded by Mordechai Kaplan, who brought the concept of Bat Mitzvah for girls to modern Jewish practice, Reconstructionist Judaism is a modern movement that views Judasim as a progressively evolving civilization. The movement encourages theological diversity and emphasizes a positive view of the modern world. Communal decision making is a fundamental value of Reconstructionist Judaism and rabbis are encouraged to work in concert with their congregations to combine a traditional and modern approach to Judaism that meets the needs of the congregation.

In the words of Mordechai Kaplan,  “To believe in God means to take for granted that it is man’s destiny to rise above the brute and to eliminate all forms of violence and exploitation from human society. In brief, God is the Power in the cosmos that gives human life the direction that enables the human being to reflect the image of God.”

Throughout our nearly 12 year journey, our synagogue and cultural center (The IjCCC, Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria)  along with our lectures, workshops and individual studies, we have had the joy to offer a modern liberal approach to Calabrians and Sicilians who long to discover and learn about their lost Jewish heritage. It is our joy and honor to continue our work under the auspice of the Reconstructionist Jewish movement.

 

Join Us in the Synagogue

We offer a pluralistic approach to Shabbat services, festivals, memorials and life cycle events  in that we extend the hand of Jewish welcome to all those whose personal history propels them to our door. You are welcome if you are Jewish, half Jewish, feel Jewish or just want to know more.

If your ancestors were once Jewish you are welcome to join us. Even if your family was or is Christian, you are welcome to join us for services and programs to learn more about your Jewish, b’nai anusim ancestry.

We are egalitarian in that we offer the opportunity to all women to participate equally in the Shabbat services and festivals. We do not separate women from men and any woman who desires to do so may touch, carry or read directly from the Torah scroll.

We open our hearts to interfaith families in that we do not force a non-Jewish partner to make conversion – our personal histories that date back to Inquisition times affirm that forced conversions are always problematic and never appropriate.

We accept as Jewish the children of Jewish fathers as well as Jewish mothers. When one parent is Jewish we accept their children as Jewish. 

We welcome gay and lesbian individuals, couples and their children who can live openly as both gay and Jewish.

 We combine traditional Jewish prayers and blessings along with a modern participatory approach to services so that Jews of all backgrounds, visitors and friends can feel comfortable and included.

 

Meet Our Board of Directors

 


Enrico MascaraProfessor Dr. Enrico Mascaro – President/Chair

Born as an identical twin during the Nazi occupation of Italy, Professor Dr. Enrico Michele Mascaro survived to become a champion for children who faced economic, emotional and spiritual challenges as well as a dedicated historian whose depth of knowledge of his beloved Calabria has earned him the respect of those who live and work in Italy’s most depressed area.As a student then a teacher in Turin, Mascaro worked with children who were challenged by polio or who had lost limbs to land mine explosions that plagued Italy after World War II.Mascaro combined his skill as a teacher with his expertise as a historian, earning a Ph.D in modern Italian history and Latin language. Mascaro says, “It was during my study of history that I came to embrace my Jewish roots. Mascaro’s career included 17 years as superintendent of schools in Lamezia Terme, a position he held until his retirement in 2008. He is an active synagogue member, leading the Kiddush wine blessing, making and serving challah and welcoming visitors from all over the world.Mascaro says. “I have embraced my Jewish roots and I want to give others the opportunity to do the same,” a commitment he shares as he presents a young man  with his Bar Mitzvah certificate following a ceremony in our synagogue.  (Italian fluency)

 


Dominick J. Porto – Treasurer

 Dominick J. Porto, who graduated in Law at the New York Law School, specializes in financial law, specifically with  US Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. Porto has been involved in arbitration at the New York Stock Exchange and  the American Stock Exchange and serves as consultant to the Westor Finance Establishment in Lugano, Switzerland. He is a member of the American Bar Association and established the first department of the International Association of Jurists of Italian Language. As a founding member of Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sud, Porto discovered his Calabrian Jewish roots, a journey which led to his becoming a Bar Mitzvah in Israel. Dominick Porto, pictured at right, is a regular participant in Shabbat services at Sinagoga Ner Tamid.  (English/Italian fluency)

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Angela Yael Amato – Vice President and Education Chair 

 An accomplished professional violinist holding a Masters Degree in Music Education from London’s acclaimed Institute of Higher Education, Professoressa Angela Yael Amato combines teaching and performing to create magic in venues all over Europe. As a “Bat Anusim,” whose ancestors were forced into Christian conversion during Inquisition times, Ms. Amato has spoken and written extensively about her family history and how important it is that the anusim of Southern Italy gain recognition as authentic Jews. To that end, Ms. Amato has worked with Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sud to restore beautiful Jewish traditions to the Calabrian congregation. Ms. Amato’s work includes the organization, preparation and performance of two Jewish music concerts in Calabria and many more throughout Southern Italy where her knowledge of crypto-Judaism and ancient Sefardi Jewish melodies has earned her high praise. Determined to provide her son, Alessandro with a Jewish education, Angela traveled throughout Italy to the few modern liberal congregations so that Ale could embrace egalitarian Judaism. To that end, it was our honor and pride to officiate at Alessandro’s Bar Mitzvah ceremony as he became the first of our members to be called to the Torah. (Italian/English fluency)   

 


Dr. Randi Ross – Finance Chair and Media Director 

Dr. Randi I. Ross is the owner of the William David marketing company.  She was first introduced to Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sud and Rabbi Aiello when she journey with her daughter, Felicia Capozzoli to the mountain top synagogue for her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah – which became a life changing experience for both mother and daughter.  At dinner, a conversation with Rabbi, quickly revealed that the potential of Rabbi Barbara and the synagogue was desperately in need of updating and modernization.  The virtual/digital appearance had not been maximized to what is necessary in our current digital world.

After a w hirlwind vacation through southern Italy , and then returning to the States, Dr. Ross met with Rabbi Aiello to explain how she could  increase the visibility of the synagogue, as well as position it , the cultural center and Rabbi’s special programs to  share its message with the masses. To date, Dr. Ross is responsible for website development, social media marketing, newsletters, the innovative online Jewish studies and conversion programs,  development of the App and the packaging and marketing for “The Secret Jews of Calabria”, a documentary of forgotten history brought to life by Rabbi Aiello.  Today, Dr. Ross is the go to person for marketing and program development for Rabbi Aiello and Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sud.  The most recent addition is the exclusive Bar / Bat Mitzvah program in Rhodes, Greece that is scheduled for August 2018.  Dr. Ross is proud and honored to be a part of the synagogue, and is looking forward to the possibility of moving to Rome in 2019. (English fluency)


 Felicia Raquel Capozzoli – Tikkun Olam and Youth Activities 

Felicia Capozzoli fell in love with Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sud, Rabbi Aiello and Italy, when she journeyed from the Jersey shore with her mom, Dr. Randi Ross to the mountain top for the second of her two Bat Mitzvah celebrations in July of 2014.  Following her unique celebration, Felicia traveled throughout southern Italy  where she was instantly enchanted. Since then, Felicia has helped to manage the social media platforms for the synagogue, as well as technical projects from time to time. An avid soccer player since she was four years old, Felicia has served as teacher and referee for youth soccer leagues, positions she has held since she was ten years of age.   As a Bat Mitzvah project Felicia organized a coat drive so that homeless women would have warm coats to wear during long, cold New Jersey winters. Currently Felicia is studying Italian in school with plans to attend university in Rome where she hopes to  pursue a career in international criminal psychology. As Youth Advisor, Felicia shares her dedication to Judaism with her Italian counterpart, Alessandro Parfitt, also a youth member of our Board of Directors.(English fluency)


Yosef Alessandro Parfitt – Youth Advisor 

Yosef Alessandro Parfitt is a remarkable young man. Following in the footsteps of his talented mother, Angela Yael Amato, Alessandro began his musical studies at three years of age is an award winning, internationally acclaimed youth cellist and excellent all around student.  Alessandro has the distinction of being our very first member to become Bar Mitzvah in our Calabrian synagogue after having studied the Hebrew language and Jewish prayers and blessings  beginning at six years of age. In gratitude to the village of Serrastretta, where Sinagoga Ner Tamid is located, Alessandro and Angela organized and performed the first concert of Jewish music ever held in the Calabrian mountains, and continued the tradition in 2017 when more than 100 guests thrilled to Alessandro’s cello interpretation of Kol Nidre. As Youth Advisor, Alessandro shares his dedication to Judaism with Felicia Capozzoli, also a youth member of our Board of Directors.  Through “Ale” we hope to continue to involve our youth in making our little corner of the world a more loving and tolerant place.(Italian/English fluency)


Rabbi Barbara Aiello – Membership and Ritual Chair 

Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sud is a small congregation and during this period of growth, Rabbi Barbara, in conjunction with congregants and Board members, serves as Membership and Ritual chair, In 2017 her  work in this area is greatly enhanced by the synagogue’s acceptance as a Reconstructionist member congregation.  Rabbi Barbara Aiello is Italy’s first and only woman rabbi and has served three congregation since her ordination in 1999. Rabbi Barbara is a graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania where she received the Distinguished Alumni Award.  She holds a MS from The George Washington University in Washington DC and received rabbinic ordination from The Rabbinical Seminary International and the Rabbinical Academy in New York City.  She is a founding board member of the International Federation of Rabbis, mentoring rabbi for the international Jewish Studies program, Darshan Yeshiva, and Blogger for Times of Israel.(English/Italian fluency)


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