Tucked away in a corner of Siena, Italy, is the Sinagoga Ebraica. Built in 1786, it still hosts weekly Shabbat services for the tiny remnant of the Jewish community in the town as well as a few of the visiting students at the University of Siena.
The history of the Sienese Jews has many of the normal benchmarks of European Jewry: centuries’ old roots, a former ghetto, some anti-Jewish measures including a tax, noted success in trade and excellence in study, susceptibility to the whims of local marauders, an eventual decrease in the community’s population, and a number of deportations during World War II (commemorated by the plaque to the left of the door).
It’s a beautiful synagogue in a stunning little town. While en route to the synagogue, I befriended a Jewish pilgrim from Queens–by way of Brazil–who told me the following joke:
What is the difference between an Italian mother and a Jewish mother?
An Italian mother says “If you don’t eat, I’ll kill you!”
A Jewish mother says “If you don’t eat, you’ll kill me!”
Turns out, there are crickets in Italy.