Rabbi Barbara Aiello, Italy’s first—and only—female Rabbi, as well as the country’s only non-Orthodox Rabbi, spoke at the McHenry County Jewish Congregation (MCJC) in Crystal Lake in November. Her topic was “The Hidden Jews of Sicily and Calabria.”
Rabbi Barbara is the founder of the B’nai Anusim movement in Southern Italy. B’nai Anusim is an initiative to help the hidden Jews of Calabria and Sicily, whose ancestors were forced into Christian conversion 500 years ago during the Inquisition, return to their Jewish heritage.
Historians estimate that prior to the Inquisition, more than 50 percent of the population of Southern Italy was Jewish. Through her work as founding director of the Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria, Rabbi Barbara has uncovered vestiges of what were once thriving Jewish communities in the area. Long hidden and lost rituals and practices have come to light as a result of her investigations, and she has helped Italians and Italian-Americans discover and embrace their Jewish roots.
Rabbi Barbara divides her time between Sarasota, FL, where she serves Jewish seniors, and Italy where she serves as the rabbi for Ner Tamid del Sud, The Eternal Light of the South, the first active synagogue in Calabria in 500 years.