Italian Word of the Week SUD

italicsBy Daniela Gross

Sometimes geography reserves surprises. And if you look at the geography of the Italian Jews you can’t help but being surprised. There are in Italy 21 Jewish Communities. Seventy per cent of Italian Jewry is in fact concentrated in Rome and Milan and there are Communities in Ancona, Bologna, Casale Monferrato, Ferrara, Firenze (Florence), Genova (Genoa), Livorno (Leghorn), Mantova (Mantua), Merano, Modena, Padova (Padua), Parma, Pisa, Torino (Turin), Trieste, Venezia (Venice), Vercelli and Verona. But if you look at South Italy you will find only one, Naples.
The reason? The “Sud”, how in Italian is called the South, has had during the centuries a history quite different from the rest of the country, until the 1861 when Italy was unified. And the situation of the Jews of the Sud reflects with clarity this difference. The Jewish presence in those areas dates back to the first century with alternative positive and bad periods. But at the time of the Spanish domination that long continuity of presence ceases in a dramatic way. At the middle of XVI century, between 1510 and 1541, the King of Spain Ferdinand the Catholic, the master of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, decreed the same faith for the Jews of the Naples kingdom. It is a political decision – called Gherush – that repels the Jews in those lands until the middle of XIX century.
Today the Jewish “Sud” has anew its center in the ancient Community of Naples and is living a vibrant revival, with many cultural initiatives and a rediscovery of the Jewish identity from many who were forced to hide it during the bad times. It’s a new phase in the long history of the Sud, in a sense a surprise: maybe more than geography.