Tag Archives: Italy

Jews With Better Food?

by Daniela Enriquez

Have you ever wondered if you have Italian Jewish roots? Or, do you think you have an Italian Jewish last name? You may be right. In spite of the fact that 90 percent of Italians are Catholic, much of the remaining 10 percent is Jewish.

In fact, many Italian Catholics have Jewish genetic markers of which they are unaware.

According to some historical studies, 50 percent of the population of Sicily and Calabria (two southern Italian regions) were Jewish before the Inquisition. Those Jews were Sephardi, and connected with the Spanish and North African communities. During the Inquisition, some families left these regions of southern Italy and moved to northern Italy and other countries, including Greece and some Islamic countries. Others were forced to convert to Christianity and thus became anusim, the Hebrew term for forced converts.

Today, many Italians living in Italy and in the U.S. are interested in rediscovering their Jewish heritage, which they can do with the aid of research centers specializing in tracing genes through DNA sequencing.

Rabbi Barbara Aiello, the first Italian woman rabbi, learned about her Italian Jewish heritage as a teenager. At the age of 28, Aiello visited Calabria and started to document her Jewish history and heritage. In 2006, she organized a conference in New York to help families in search of their own multi-ethnic heritage. During the conference, families were provided with information about DNA testing and archeological documentation of the Jewish presence in Italy. According to Aiello, there are about 26 million Italian Americans in the U.S., 80 percent of whom came from Sicily and Calabria. If it is true that, prior to the Inquisition, 50 percent of “Siciliani” and “Calabresi” were Jews, then it is possible that up to 80 percent of Italian-Americans have Jewish markers somewhere in their DNA, says Aiello.

Given Italy’s location at the heart of the Mediterranean, it shouldn’t be surprising that some studies have also linked Italians not only to Jews but also to other neighboring populations, including the Druze, Bedouins and even Palestinians.

So if you’re an Italian and want to find out about the possibility of your own Jewish origins, don’t be surprised if, in the course of your research, you discover a Bedouin great-grandfather you never knew about.

For more on the genetic links between Catholics and Jews, check out the July/August issue of Moment.

World Leaders React to Obama—Drama Ensues

picture-11Everyone is talking about Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s letter to president-elect Barack Obama. The letter, according to Iranian news agency ISNA, congratulates Obama and expresses Ahmadinejad’s wish for real change in US policy towards Iran. Every major newspaper has an emphatic headline for Ahmadinejad’s letter, which reflects the world’s on-edge expectations for the new administration.

We Jews are definitely waiting to see how Obama’s campaign promises play out in Iran. Will Obama shun Ahmadinejad the way President Bush did when the former sent a long-winded letter that many perceived as a tendril of friendlier relations?

And the other great piece of news from world leaders comes out of Italy, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called Obama “young, handsome and also tanned.” Of course, it’s a dubious racial reference that has been rightly protested across the globe. But it’s also funny, you have to admit, to hear a foreign leader talk about Obama as if he was a fresh young signing for AC Milan, Berlusconi’s soccer team.

Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

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