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January 31, 2014

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 31,2014 PAGE 3B In Italy, where Jews were silent for half a millennium, they now flock to celebrate By Barbara Aiello I remember it well. I was a young girl, about 11 or 12 years old. Itwas a transitional time that some social scien- tists now call "the tweens," when kids like me were starting to explore larger society. As new faces crossed my path and as I made new friends, people would do the usual thing and ask me my name. "Barbara Aiel[o," I'd say, and give them a short lesson in pronouncing my last name--I'd point to my eye and say, "like eye and the color yellow." So far, so good. Then, if religion came up, I had the chance to tell about my Jewish background: the little Sep- hardic synagogue my father sometimes took me to and the holidays and festivals we cel- ebrated at home. Some people would look at me in disbelief and say something that I've heard all my life. "But you're Italian. You can't be Jewish!" Looking back, it was this experience and many others like it that led me back home to Italy to connect with my Italian Jewish roots, and, as a rabbi, to establish asynagogue in my ancestral village of Ser- rastretta, in the mountains of Calabria, near the "toe" of Italy's "boot." Eight years ago, Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sud--The Eternal Light of the South Synagogue--was born. Half a millennium ago, forced conversions caused Jewish belief and practice to go into hiding. Ner Tamid del Sud is the first active synagogue in Calabria in 500 years. In the intervening cen- turies, secret Jews of Southern Italy--"crypto-Jews," or bnei anousim--took their tradi- tions into their homes and into their hearts, waiting for the opportunity to be Jewish once again. That opportunity became a reality in 2007, when regular synagogue services began. This development wasn't only relevant to locals. Quick- ly, Jews from abroad started requesting bar and bat mitz- vahs in our congregation, and shortly after our estab- lishment we had our first instance of a family traveling here from the United States to celebrate the bar mitzvah of their son, Tyler. It became clear that the synagogue would both extend a Jewish welcome to southern Italians eager to make their own Jew- ish discoveries and open the door to this remarkable piece of history to Jewish families around the world. I recall meeting face to face with Tyler, his parents, and his younger brother. We had already studied together via Skype on a weekly basis for about three months, and we finally gathered in a small family-operated hotel in Lamezia Terme, the town closest to our village. I had driven down the mountain (the synagogue is 3,000 feet or 900 meters above sea level) with our antique To- rah wrapped securely beside me, I was prepared to share our scroll with Tyler and offer him an opportunity to practice his verses before the big day. After our study time, Tyler and I, along with the en- tire family--grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cous- ins-toured Timpone, the old Jewish Quarter where a thriving Jewish community once lived and worked nearly 500 years ago. As we climbed the hill toward the center of the quarter, I was able to point out the local Catholic church, complete with a camouflaged Star of David indicating that the church had once been a synagogue. As our walking tour continued and as we met some of the residents of Tim- pone, all of who have ancestral Jewish heritage, our Ameri- can families were astounded to learn that despite concerted efforts to eradicate established Judaism, an entire neighbor- hood held fast to their Jewish traditions for centuries. Over the years the bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah ex- perience in Calabria has been a lesson in Jewish tenacity for the modern teens whose fami- lies opt out of the big party to give their sons and daughters a chance to see that in some parts of the world, it's not easy to be Jewish. In fact, on the day of the ceremony, our bar and bat mitzvah students--some of whom had traveled from Chicago, New York, Canada, and Australia--not only as- sisted me with the service, but also met and greeted Italian congregants who had journeyed great distances just to participate in the ceremony. One family came six hours by train so that their two daughters could see a young girl read directly from the Torah scroll. Their dedication amazed Charis, who had come from Rhode Island to become Calabria's first-ever bat mitz- vah. "I carried the scroll to each of them, and I could see The Calabrian mountains of Italy. in their eyes how happy they that we are "pluralistic," in were," Charis said. Thanks in part to the international interest in our bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah program, I was able to reno- vate the synagogue space and enlarge it to accommodate our destination families, along with our growing bnei anousim congregation. In its new space, the synagogue is configured in the Sephardic style, with the ark on the "Je- rusalem" wall and the reading table opposite. Visitors often remark that the sanctuary is reminiscent of the ancient Sephardic synagogues in Spain, to which most Cal- abrian Jews trace their Jewish roots. When I'm asked about our Jewish affiliation, I explain that the service is fully egali- tarian with equal participa- tion for men and women as well as non-Jewish family members. And as one of just two non-Orthodox syna- gogues in Italy, our focus is on prayer and song in Hebrew, English and Italian so that everyone feels comfortable and understands. Here in the south of Italy, Jewish families date back thousands of years to the time of the Maccabees, when Jews left Judea and voluntarily came to Italy. We hold the distinction as the world's first Diaspora Jews. Centuries later at the time of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, a new group of Jews made their way from Spain and Portugal Potito M. Petrone to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, and eventually to "1o stivale'--"the boot," as we call the Italian mainland. The rich Jewish history of our area, combined with my own family background that includes a glimpse into secret and hidden Jewish tradition, is truly a rabbi's dream. I am so grateful for the opportunity to immerse our bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah students into the unique Italian Jewish experience. Barbara Aiello is Italy's first female rabbi and also its first non-Orthodox rabbi. She can be reached at rabbi@ This story was a first pub- lished by www. Jewish. Travel, the new online Jewish travel magazine. A chuppah in Jerusalem. By Binyamin Kagedan The hall has been booked, the dress fitted, the flowers selected, the food tasted, the photographer approved, the bands auditioned, the rings engraved, and the honey- moon suite reserved. With all the material components of the wedding in place, the focus now turns to the intangibles. What makes a Jewish wedding truly moving and memorable is not what is seen, but what is heard. The emotional tone of the ceremonywon't be setby the The delicate art of chuppah music Nikki Fenton size of the bride's bouquet, but by a heartfelt blessing, a unique vow, or a special song. That's where I come in. A musician and singer by hobby, I have had the happy fortune of being asked to sing under the chuppah at the weddings of most of my best friends, as well as close family members. The Jewish wedding ceremony is rich in opportunities for powerful emotional expression, especially in its music. Songs about holy love punctuate and enliven each step of the process: the groom's entrance, then the bride's; the last of the seven blessings; the breaking of the glass. The quality and combination of the tunes used for these moments lend each and every chuppah a unique emotional texture. I view my role in these weddings not just as cantor or entertainer, but as con- sultant. In order to create a "score" that channels the couple's individual person- ality, I provide them with a range of options for each musical moment, and give ideas and tips on how to fit the music into the complex choreography of their ch- uppah. Some couples like the more elegiac melodies, while others prefer a more cheerful ambience. Some include pop music in their ceremony, others keep to the traditional Hebrew verse. Certain brides want guitar accompaniment, others request pure voice or prefer that I sing with the band they hired. A few grooms will break the glass underfoot while I am still singing, "If I forget thee o Jerusalem," but most will wait until after the last note, letting the sound of the shattering signal the eruption of "Mazal Tov!" from the crowd. Chuppah music is an art, and like all good art, it comes together in the Binyamin Kagedan performs at a chuppah. details. Attention to detail is essential to creating a seamless esthetic experi- ence for the bride, groom, and assembled guests, and for my part, is a gesture of love and dedication toward the marrying couple. I begin rehearsingweeks before the event, nailing down the per- fect tempo, finding the opti- mal key for my vocal range and making certain that I can comfortably hit the lowest and highest notes. When the specifics are set, I get in touch with the band leader to bring him or her up to speed. Come wedding day, I drag the keyboardist out of the smorgasbord to run through the set with me in person, just to be sure that nothing is left to chance. There are few acts more gratifying than to enhance the sweetness of the wed- ding day for dear friends. I got to experience one of them recently, as I designed and performed (along with my new sister-in-law) the vocals for my own chup- pah. Singing to my glowing bride as she circled around me seven times, I felt as though all the time and care I had put into every Yuval Haber previous chuppah perfor- mance, all of the logistical and esthetic expertise I had accumulated, all of it was meant to prepare me for that moment for her. And though the October weather was perfectly unseasonable, the hanging candles per- fectly placed, and her dress perfectly tailored, itwas the music that made the night so perfect. Binyamin Kagedan has a master's in Jewish thought from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He can be reached at bkage-