10 February 2009

New York: Italian Jewish Roots Conference, March 22

The second Italian Jewish Roots conference will take place in New York City from 10.30am-5pm, Sunday, March 22.

Sponsored by Rabbi Barbara Aiello, of the Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria (IjCCC), it aims to assist Italians with Jewish roots to reconnect with their heritage.

Register for the all-day event by February 15, and receive a fee discount.

To read more about Jewish renewal in southern Italy, read this Hadassah Magazine (December 2008) article, "Spark in the Bottom of the Boot."

Following the 1492 Expulsion from Spain and the 1493 Expulsion from Sicily, many Jews went to mainland Italy. Most of them settled in southern Italy, across the Straits of Messina from Sicily, in Calabria. According to historians, at that time, about half of Italians in the area had Jewish roots.

Rabbi Aiello has discovered communities of hidden Jews in small towns. Her own background illustrates this history, of a grandmother lighting Shabbat candles in the basement so no one would see them. Her family comes from the mountain-top village of Serrastretta, and Aiello returned there a few years ago after purchasing her ancestral home.

Her work in setting up the first non-Orthodox synagogue and the first headed by a female rabbi in the region has produced enormous food for thought among both researchers and residents in examining their roots. The subject is rarely mentioned by historians because of the pervasive reach of the Catholic Church in suppressing the area's Jewish history.

This year's speakers are:
Bennett Greenspan, director/founder, Family Tree DNA - will demonstrate his
personal experience to explain DNA research and its link to establishing Italian Jewish roots.

Kathleen Kirkpatrick, CEO, Gentracer - specializes in Italian genealogy and works in conjunction with Rabbi Aiello to help Italian Americans make important connections between Italian heritage and Jewish ancestry.

Rabbi Frank Tamburello - will share his rjourney from Catholic priest, to his discovery of Sicilian Jewish roots, through Jewish conversion and his ordination as a rabbi.

Professor Enrico Tromba - from Reggio Calabria - is principal archaeologist for the Bova Marina project which discovered a 3rd century CE synagogue. He will share his hands-on experience in the excavation that establishes ancient Jewish roots in Calabria.

Rabbi Barbara Aiello – is the first woman and first non-Orthodox rabbi to live and work in Italy. Her discovery of her Italian Jewish heritage led to the establishment of the first active synagogue in Italy in 500 years and the Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria (IjCCC) to help Italians worldwide discover and embrace their Jewish heritage.
The conference will provide information about DNA testing and how the results can help individuals connect theirItalian and Jewish ancestry.

It will demonstrate archaeological documentation of a strong Jewish presence in Calabria and Sicily – areas until recently thought to be devoid of any Jewish history.

There will be examples of Jewish customs, traditions, beliefs and practices that persecuted Spanish Jews brought with them to Calabria - traces indicating an old Jewish presence dating back five centuries.

First-hand experiences will be shared by Italian-Americans who have combined genealogical documentation and family anecdotal histories to discover and embrace their Jewish roots.

The conference will run from 10.30am-5pm, at the Brotherhood Synagogue, 28 Gramercy Park South.

The all-day conference fee is $85, including a kosher Italian lunch, coffee/tea breaks and Italian dolce (pastries). Register by February 15 for only $75; Brotherhood Synagogue members pay $65.

For more information on the Center and Calabria's Jewish history, click here.

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