il portale dell'ebraismo italiano

Italian Word of the Week CIMITERO

italicsBy Daniela Gross

In Italy, as in any Jewish Community, the “cimitero” is among the most important services provided. The sound of it is very similar to the word “cemetery” because both the Italian and the English term derive from the Greek root koimetérion, i.e. “resting place”. But we don’t like talking about it, maybe influenced by the subtle but inevitable superstition that is still part of Italian lifestyle, and often, when we refer to it, we prefer the Hebrew “bet haim”, which highlights the concept of transition more than that of the end.
Anyway, taking care and protecting Italian Jewish cemeteries represents an impossible challenge for some Communities, especially for the small ones, not to mention extinct communities or communities composed by only a few members. We are talking, in fact, about an incredible artistic, historic and affective patrimony: an invaluable heritage that illuminates important and sometimes hidden aspects of Italian culture and of the secular Jewish presence in the country.

Italian Jewish cemeteries are very ancient: the first tombstone in the magnificent Venice’s Jewish cemetery dates back to 1389, Ferrara’s cemetery was instituted in the 17th century and the Pisa’s was created in the same period, while in Trieste it developed where it currently is in the first half of the 18th century as it happened in Bologna.

However, along the centuries and in particular after the terrible wound of the Shoah, Italian Jewry shrank in a dramatic way and the care of the cemeteries, now too huge for its needs, became difficult and often unaffordable. In the last decades, strong efforts have been made, also with State support, in order to catalogue the tombstones and to save some graveyards, in some cases the only testimony of a disappeared community. It will be a long and complicated war, but it is a challenge we must face.