A posting on Harry Stein's Sephardim.com referenced an interesting page on the Jews of Sicily.
The article mentions some interesting facts:
--Sicily's Jews were a distinct ethnic group in the Middle Ages. Their vernacular Semitic language in medieval Sicily was more like Arabic than Yiddish is to German.
--The Spanish edict of 1492 brought to an end Jewish influence in Sicily. It outlawed the practice of Judaism. Some Jews left Sicily but the majority converted to Catholicism and stayed. By the 1520s, baptism and marriage records in Sicilian churches near former Jewish communities listed families with such surnames as de Simone (son of Simon), Siino (Sion) and Mosé (Moses), Nero or Porpura (for the colours of fabrics they dyed), and such baptismal names as Isacco, Beniamino, Abramo, Iasué and Davide, formerly rare among Sicilian Christians.
--The first Jews in Sicily were probably Syracuse traders in the final centuries of the Greek era. The Romans brought some Jews to Sicily as slaves or poorly-paid servants, though the author says only a minority arrived under such conditions. By the time the Arabs arrived there were flourishing Jewish communities in Messina, Panormos (Palermo), Syracuse, Mazara and elsewhere.
--Christianised Jews were allegedly the focus of a 1516 Palermo riot. Even if the story is untrue, it proves, says the author, that Sicilians descended from Jews were still identified as such a generation after the infamous edict.
--Much of our knowledge of Mediterranean Jews, including Sicily, in the 12th century comes from Benjamin of Tudela, a Spaniard. He visited Sicily, described many Gentile groups, and mentioned China. He estimated some 200 Jewish families in Messina in the 1170s. Frederick II employed court Jews to translate Greek and Arabic works which reflects a high level of literacy among Jewish Sicilians.
--In the early 1060s Sicily's Jews often fought together with Arabs against the Normans (Battle of Messina and other compaigns in the Nebrodi Mountains). There were occasional expulsions for political reasons, but Jewish communities survived until 1493.
--Estimates vary widely, but in the early 1490s there may have been as many as 25,000 Jews in Sicily. Of the Jews who then departed for Rome, Ancona, Venice, Malta or elsewhere, some adopted such surnames as Palermo or Messina in reference to their cities of birth --though this is not to imply that all Italians bearing such surnames are descended patrilineally from Jewish forebears.
--Few traces of Sicily's Jewish heritage remain beyond a handful of inscriptions and small structures scattered around the island --things like a piece of Hebrew graffiti carved in the cloister courtyard of Palermo's Magione monastery-- though there is much documentary evidence.It is believed, however, that certain localised Catholic religious traditions may be based on Jewish ones.
--Sicily's medieval Jewish cuisine was similar to Arab cuisine, and the lack of pork recipes may reflect proscriptions by Muslims and Jews. There is a popular - unproven - theory that pizza was invented by Jews in Sicily or Naples. The traditional Sicilian pizza is sfincione, topped with tomatoes, onions and anchovies, although tomatoes only appeared after the discovery of the New World.
Michael Maddi has created a Family Tree DNA geographic group for people with Sicilian roots; some individuals have tested as having the J2 haplogroup, which indicates Jewish ancestry.
The project was established to study Sicily's genetic heritage - a crossroads of civilization for at least 3,000 years of recorded history. DNA testing for both maternal and paternal lines can provide a picture of the deep and recent ethnic background of Sicilians and their descendants. This includes Greek, Italian, Arab, Sephardic Jewish, Norman and Spanish backgrounds, among others. An extensive list of surnames represented in this project is provided.
For more information, or to join this DNA group which currently has 230 members, visit The Sicily Project.
Family Tree DNA also hosts the Sephardic Heritage Study. Its data will be utilized by Dr Doron Behar in his Sephardim Migration Study. The project is sponsored by the International Institute of Jewish Genealogy
For more information and to contact group co-administrator Alain Farhi, click here. The project is sponsored by the International Institute of Jewish Genealogy.
Currently, the following families are participants: ALHADEFF, ANZARUT, ARUH, BEKHOR, CAPOUYA, CAVALIERO, CHITAYAT, CONSTANTINI, DOUEK, FARHI, GUBBAY, HAZAN, LABY, LISGONA, MARZOUK, MODIANO, PARDO, PIZANTI, RUSSO, SEPHARDI, SERRANO, SOUROUJON, TARANTO.