21 February 2008

Italian Jewish roots conference now free

The upcoming Italian Jewish Roots Conference is now free, thanks to a generous sponsor. The event takes place Monday and Tuesday, February 25-26, in Sarasota, Florida, organized by Rabbi Barbara Aiello of the Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria, Italy.

Having discovered her own Jewish roots, Rabbi Aiello will share her personal experiences and help conference participants begin their search for Jewish documentation. She is the first Progressive Rabbi and first and only woman Rabbi in Italy.

Participants will learn more about the modern liberal Jewish movements that welcome anousim to study and learn about their lost heritage and steps to take to return to their Jewish roots

Speakers include:

DNA expert Elise Friedman who has been researching her Jewish roots for a decade and enjoys teaching genealogy. She has presented programs and workshops at several local and international Jewish genealogy conferences and meetings. She is active in the field of genetic genealogy, managing several DNA projects at FamilyTreeDNA and co-authoring a genetic genealogy case study published in the Avotaynu and Forum genealogy journals. She volunteers as JewishGen's DNA Projects Coordinator and is a member of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy.

Rabbi Frank Tamburello was born in 1951 into a family of second and third generation Italian immigrants, and taught Italian in the New York schools for 33 years. He studied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1980. After discovering his Jewish roots, he made formal conversion to Judaism and was ordained a rabbi in 2004 by the Rabbinical Seminary International in New York City.

Kim Sheintal is president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Southwest Florida and has been researching her family since 1983. Through her local and national work, she has helped countless Jews trace and embrace their Jewish roots.

According to Aiello, several experts will be coming from Italy as well.

Among the events planned will be wedding for a couple, married nearly 50 years, who want to have the Jewish wedding they never had. Years ago, the groom tried in vain to convice rabbis in his town that he had Jewish roots, and received the same response that Rabbi Aiello had received: "How can you be Jewish? You're Italian!"

The conference will offer personalized help, says Rabbi Aiello, who understands how difficult it can be within a family when one or two open the door to the family’s Jewish past. “I have family members whose ancestry dates back to the time of the marranos, when Jews were forced to accept Christian conversion," she writes. "As a result, many of my cousins are practicing Catholics, so I know what it’s like to have a mix of Jews and Christians in the same family!”

“For Italian Americans who have heard family stories and have felt the subtle tug to explore Jewish tradition, the IjCCC conference will bring them into contact with others who have had similar experiences.

For more information, click here.

Registration is required, Email register@rabbibarbara.com and include your name, mailing address, telephone and email address. Registration will be confirmed by email; bring confirmation email to attend.

Sessions run from 11am-6pm both days, and include lunch both days and Monday dinner. All lectures, workshops and proceedings will be in English and Italian speakers will be accompanied by English translators.

For an Italian language article by Rabbi Aiello on the conference, click here.

For a partial list of Jewish Italian names click here, which links to other articles with more name lists.


  1. Thanks for an interesting post...the conference sounds fascinating. I've never heard much about an Italian Jewish connection. The history of this would be interesting to research. I was surprised to read on Rabbi Aiello's site that 50% of people in Calabria and Sicily have Jewish roots...both of my grandparents came from Calabria so this really caught my eye.

    Tim Agazio

  2. Hi, Tim,
    Thank you for writing. How nice to hear from you!

    There are researchers now working in Sicilian archives (another treasure to mine!). I have numerous posts listing Italian Jewish names as well. Do write to Rabbi Aiello - she is always happy to assist people with information or put them in touch with people who can do more.

    The history isn't complicated. When the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, many went to Sicily to join the community already there (very prominent in silk, weaving, agriculture and other industries). In 1492, Sicily was the largest Jewish community in the world. Unfortunately, they were also expelled from Sicily in 1493 (one of those "convert or leave" situations; many converted to stay). While other families and individuals went to Greece and Turkey, a large number simply crossed from Sicily to the nearest point in mainland Italy - Calabria. In Spanish and Sicilian archives there is evidence that converso families in both places stayed in contact and in business.
    There is also a Sicily DNA project at Family Tree DNA, which has produced some very interesting results. You might want to investigate testing there!

    Best wishes