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Rabbi shares importance of celebrating Italian seder

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Rabbi Barbara Aiello is an Italian American who discovered her Jewish roots from her Calabrian and Sicilian ancestors. She is the first and only woman rabbi in Italy and serves Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sud, returning each summer to lead the first active synagogue in Calabria in 500 years.

Additionally, she makes Jewish tradition available to Calabrians and Sicilians through the Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria (IjCCC). As its director, Aiello works with families with Jewish roots in Calabria, helping them to learn more about their traditions and history.

Recently, Aiello shared the special significance of celebrating an Italian seder with NIAF, in an article titled "The Passover Trilogy -- Italian Jewish Interfaith Families Find Their Way Home." An excerpt appears below.

Rabbi Barbara Aiello:

As rabbi of the first active synagogue in the deep south of Italy since Inquisition times, my mission as an Italian American and a Jew has been to extend the hand of Jewish welcome to the most common of all interfaith combinations -- the Italian Jewish family.

For Italians in Italy and for Italian-Americans who have "always felt Jewish," Congregation Ner Tamid has offered them the opportunity to celebrate Passover and to learn more about the rich Jewish presence that has survived underground in Italy for over 500 years...

Centuries ago, the Inquisition forced thousands of Italian Jews to either convert to Christianity or to take their Jewish practices underground. As a result the rich tapestry of Calabrian and Sicilian Jewish life unraveled and became little more than a few threads. In order to protect themselves from being denounced as Jews, religious traditions morphed into general family practice ("We never ate pork. My parents said it wasn't healthy!") to superstition ("It is bad luck to put a cross on a grave.") and eventually for many families, Jewish heritage gave way to obscurity ("We light a candle on Friday night because my grandmother always did."). 

Now that modern Italian historians recognize that prior to the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, at least 50 percent of the entire population of these regions was Jewish, Italians in Sicily and Calabria are beginning to rediscover and embrace their Jewish roots. Families that baked and ate "pane azzimo," or unleavened bread during "La Pasqua degli Ebrei" or the "Easter of the Jews," are coming to realize that despite persecution, forced conversion, expulsion and other horrors, the flame of their Jewish heritage never really died. 

To read Aiello's full article about her seder celebrations in Italy, click here.