Why jewish Italy
Jews have resided in Italy for over twenty-two centuries and have settled in almost every region of the peninsula, taking in the cultural and artistic sensibility of local cultures and generating continuous exchanges in art, literature as well as gastronomy. Indeed Italian-Jewish cuisine has much in common with that of neighboring local gentiles and some now-considered-typical Italian recipes clearly have their origin from the Jewish community - the fried artichoke in Rome being the most obvious example; non-kosher ingredients were substituted with kosher ones - in the Monferrato, for example, while the gentiles prized their pork salami, local Jews made the same recipes but with goose salami, still today a delicacy of the region. Also the liturgy of each community varies considerably, depending on the different origins of each community, producing fascinating and often very beautiful melodies - the Spanish-origin Livorno rite being a prime example of this, still thankfully alive today in synagogues in Italy and Israel.

The oldest Jewish settlements were established in Rome and along the Southern coasts.
Here we find archeological treasures of extraordinary interest: the remains of the synagogue of Ostia Antica (Rome); the mosaics of the synagogue discovered in Bova Marina; the Roman Jewish catacombs; the Venosa catacombs; the still recognizable medieval synagogues in Trani; the mikveh of Syracuse; and the countless streets whose names remind us of the Jewish presence in different cities. Many treasures are still being discovered today, and visitors to these southern areas can be among the first to view them.

Throughout the 16th century, Jews were expelled from Spanish domains and gradually moved from the south of Italy to the north. It was the beginning of the “ghetto” era, whose characteristic blocks of buildings are still recognizable today. Nevertheless, the segregation failed to suppress the cultural and artistic fervor of the Jewish communities: the synagogues built in the ghettos, still used today, are secret caskets that hide authentic masterpieces of Baroque architecture, like the wonderful examples of Venetian synagogues and the small jewels of the Jewish communities in Piedmont.

With the emancipation of Jews in 1848, new synagogues were built in a more spectacular and monumental form. The grandiose "Israelite temples" of Rome, Florence, Turin, Vercelli, Trieste and other cities, arose at that time, while in other cities the existing synagogues were renewed both inside and externally. Also in modern times, there have been some very valuable experiences for the Italian synagogue panorama: the Temple of Livorno, inaugurated on 1962, replacing the old one which was destroyed during World War II; the Little Temple of Turin, realized with the Baroque furnishing of the ancient synagogue of Chieri in the suggestive basement of the main synagogue; and the small synagogue of Bologna, built on the ruins of a domus romana, below the big temple.

Many of the ancient and modern synagogues can be visited today, and spending a Shabbat in a major city like Rome, Milan, Venice, Florence and Turin is a joyous way for travelers to appreciate the unbroken continuity of Jewish life here.

A hundred cemeteries, big and small, simple and monumental, tell the stories of those who created the Jewish communities over the last centuries and sometimes reflect their involvement in the main society.

The extraordinary heritage of Jewish Italy and its traditions can also be found in the numerous museums and permanent exhibitions of the Jewish communities. Many original documents, teaching aids, magnificent collections of ceremonial furnishings of every age, with a high artistic and historical-documentary value, hand down to us an extremely rich history that still goes on today, with rituals, traditions, art and food to be discovered again and again.

An immense and living Italian-Jewish patrimony thereof awaits the curious traveler. Buon viaggio!