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The first active synagogue in Calabria in 500 years.

Before the Spanish Inquisition a sizeable percentage of Calabria’s population was Jewish, as much as forty percent by some estimates. This southern Italian district is full of archaeological and cultural remnants of the Jewish communities that once dotted the landscape. The open practice of the Jewish religion was eliminated as a result of the Inquisition however many Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity continued to practice their Judaism in secret.

Rabbi Barbara Aiello, an American of Italian extraction, recognized that many of the customs and traditions followed today by a sizeable number of Calabrians are of Jewish origin. In the small mountain village of Serrastretta some villagers have discovered their Jewish roots and have formed the nucleus of a Jewish congregation headed by Rabbi Aiello. Even though Jews were forced to convert or practice their religion secretly, their traditions never died.

To serve this fledgling congregation Aiello recently opened the first synagogue in Calabria in about 500 years, Ner Tamid del Sud (Eternal Light of the South), as well as the Center for the Study of Jewry in Calabria and Sicily in an ancient house that has been in her family for 400 years. Beginning in 2007, renovations were made to what may have been an ancient Jewish prayer room. Brothers Dr. Enrico and Mario Mascaro along with their son and nephew, Alessandro worked hard painting, paneling and de-humidifying the 400 year old structure.

According to Rabbi Aiello the name Ner Tamid del Sud combines the Hebrew and the Italian languages to emphasize that the Jewish presence that flourished in Calabria centuries ago has returned to burn brightly in the new millennium. Ner Tamid in Hebrew means Eternal Light, while del Sud is Italian for of the South. In the Torah in the Book of Exodus (27:20) we find reference to the Ner Tamid of ancient Temple times. A derivative of the seven branched temple menorah, the Ner Tamid was symbolic of God’s eternal, unbroken and continuous presence in the lives of the Jewish people.