14 January 2008

Florida: Italian Americans, Jewish Roots

Jewish family history is filled with tragic historical periods that impacted Jewish continuity and identity.

In some places, there is renewed interest among those not Jewish today who feel their roots might be Jewish. Clues might be certain family customs, vocabulary, names and the most advanced tool so far, DNA testing.

The Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria (IJCCC) will hold a two-day Italian Jewish Roots conference, "I'm Italian. Could I be Jewish?" from 11am-6pm, Monday and Tuesday, February 25-26, in Sarasota, Florida. the focus is for Italian-Americans to connect with their Jewish roots.

The event features Rabbi Barbara Aiello, an Italian-American who currently lives and works in Calabria, as the first woman and first Progressive (Reform, US) rabbi in Italy and director of the IjCCC.

“Deep down in the ‘toe of the boot, there is a rich but nearly forgotten Jewish history,” says Aiello. In fact, modern historians now believe that prior to the Spanish Inquisition that reached into Sicily and Calabria, nearly 50 per cent of the population of the entire region was Jewish.”

Rabbi Aiello will share the discovery of her own Jewish roots, experiences and help conference participants being their search for Jewish documentation. Other speakers include Jewish genealogist Kim Sheintal (president, Jewish Genealogical Society of Southwest Florida) and Rabbi Frank Tamburello (a former prist who discovered his Jewish roots, converted to Judaism and was ordained a rabbi).

Participants will also hear from Southern Italian history experts and those who have experienced specialized Italian-Jewish study that has led to full participation in Jewish cultural and synagogue life.

Rabbi Aiello understands how difficult it can be within a family when one or two open the door to the family's Jewish past.

According to the press release:

Rabbi Aiello explains, “I have family members whose ancestry dates back to the time of the marranos, when Jews were forced to accept Christian conversion. 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. The IjCCC, located as it is in southern Italy, has uncovered dozens of towns, villages and surnames, all of which are steeped in Jewish heritage dating back not only to Inquisition times but to the time of the Maccabees as well.

Her website includes a partial list of Italian Jewish surnames, and there are many additional sources on the Internet:

Anania, Garo, Ventura, Viterbo, Barone, Campagna, Costantino, Amato, Balsamo, Marino, Mazza, Romano, Staiti, Bonfiglio, Bruno, Brigandi, Bonanno, Capua, Carafa, Filomarino, Caracciolo, D'Aquino, Monforte, Mele, Gesualdo, Palermo, Milano, Napoli, Pistoia, Montalto, Amantea, Salerno, Speranza, Spagnolo, Cimino, Cristiano, Buono, Giardino, Perna, Licastro, Renda, De Rose, Pugliese, Siciliano, Jenco, Russo, De Masi, Romano, Brancato, Pane, Margiotta, Panaro, Pisciotta, Mozello, Rotoli, Catalano, De Pasquale, Mondella, Chiarelli, De Mayo, Ferraiolo, Foderaro, Orefice, Ferraro, Pignataro, Speziale, Tranquillo, Leone, Dattilo, Simone, Ricca, Stella, Fiore, Gentile, Gioia, Greco, Luzzatto, Del Vecchio, Del Giudice, De Sarro, Diamante, Vitale, Di Giacomo, Di Giovanni, Di Matteo, D’Alessandro, De Pascali, Di Nola, Di Napoli, Di Lentini, Di Rende. (Compiled by Professor Vincenzo Villella)

For location, more information and registration, click on Aiello's website here. All lectures, workshops and proceedings will be in English with translators for Italian speakers. There is a discount for registrations received by February 1. Cost includes materials, on-site lunch both days and dinner on the first day.

Want to know more about the Jews of Italy? Tracing the Tribe has had several postings on this topic, including Calabria, Sicily and much more; some include lists of names. to read these postings, click here, here, here, here and here.


  1. Anonymous5:47 PM

    You got to be kidding. It seems like if my mom shook hands with a jew that might make her a jew. My conclusion is being a jew is a numbers game. You want to be a jew just reach into your pocket, and we will convert you. Trust me real jews laugh and look down on wanna be's, maybe not to your face, they are to smart for that. You should be proud to be an italian, and grow up.

    1. If you take some time and immerse yourself in history of this beautiful country, it bevo es. Celar that we all live in ruins. Italy has layers of ancien civilizations-the Etruscans for example. The past leaves traces that beg to be interpreted. I live in Orvieto. There is a Jewish cemetery within the walls. yet, no one wants to talk about the wellspring of Judiasm that disappeared...where there is a crack it let's the light in. Let the light in. SBE Orvieto Italia - the only Jew in town?

    2. Anonymous1:45 PM

      I am Jewish and Italian, and you are an ignorant racist.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    I would recommend that you read about the Jewish history of Italy. There are many Italian Jews who are both genuine Italians and Jews. There are also many more and more Italians with Jewish heritage who are learning who they really are and about the customs and traditions observed in their families.

    If you researched your own family history, you might be surprised. There are several posts on Tracing the Tribe about Italian Jews and Italian Jewish history, including lists of family names and links for more information.


  3. Anonymous10:23 AM

    Anonymous is clueless about Italian Jewish heritage.