Marco Derksen
Via Maqueda, Palermo, Sicily in 2011. Marco Derksen
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Roman Catholic Church To Finance Synagogue and Heritage Center for Palermo’s Jewish Community

Five centuries after the expulsion of Jews from Sicily, Jewish life in Palermo is looking up

Jonathan Zalman
January 10, 2017
Marco Derksen
Via Maqueda, Palermo, Sicily in 2011. Marco Derksen

On Jan. 12, a Thursday, the Jewish community of Palermo, Sicily, will become owners of part of a church and monastery complex—a gift from the Roman Catholic Church—that will soon house its synagogue and heritage center. The complex, itself located atop the ruins of a medieval synagogue (the Great Synagogue of Palermo), will undergo renovations to create these Jewish spaces, and the Catholic Church will be financing the project. The donation creates what is essentially the first synagogue in Palermo in over 500 years—since the Jews were expelled from Sicily in 1493.

Helming this transition is Palermo’s rabbi, Pinhas Punturello, who serves as emissary to Sicily for Shavei Israel, a nonprofit that helps “lost” Jews reconnect with wider Jewry; Punturello, who travels to Sicily from Israel monthly, will now serve as the community’s rabbi. Palermo is reportedly home to less than 100 Jews. Shavei Israel’s founder Michael Freund—whom Tablet Senior Editor Matthew Fishbane profiled in February 2015 and who worked on the Palermo project for five years—will speak at the ceremony Thursday. “Ever since I learned about Sicily’s history, my goal has been to lay the groundwork for the establishment of the first Jewish community in Palermo in more than five centuries.”

This, I say, is an excellent development in this here world.

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Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.