Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Historic Hanukkah Lighting at Italian Prison

Candles lit where Jews were once tortured for their beliefs

By: Zak Edwards

Published: December 5th, 2013 in News » World

A historic lighting ceremony took place at Sicily’s infamous Steri prison Wednesday to commemorate the Jews who lost their lives during one of Europe’s darkest periods, reports The Times of Israel.

Steri prison was the headquarters for the Spanish Inquisition from 1601-1782, a historical period responsible for some of the worst religiously motivated torturing and killings in European history. While an official expulsion order was made in 1492, dissipating an estimated 52, 000 Italian Jews from 52 communities, some remained behind and faced generations of persecution.

Those who remained were forcibly converted to Catholicism and faced torture and death for secretly maintaining their Jewish traditions and religious practices.

Since then, Bnei Anousim, descendants of these persecuted Jews, have maintained the practices that were illegal for centuries. According to Israel Nation News, nearly 100 Bnei Anousim were in attendance Wednesday.

The ceremony was organized by Shavei Israel, a group that “aims to help descendants of Jews reconnect with the people and State of Israel.” Rabbi Pinhas Punturello, the group’s emissary for Southern Italy and Sicily, headed the ceremony along with Prof. Roberto La Galla, Chancellor of Palermo University, and other faculty members.

Shavei Israel founder Michael Freund spoke of the importance of the ceremony, saying that “hundreds of years after the Steri prison palace operated to put out the light of Israel, we came here today to show that the Jewish flame continues to burn.”

“For 200 years, Jews were tortured within the palace’s walls, and many were then burned at the stake by the Inquisition for secretly practicing Judaism,” Freund continued, “In the place where the darkness of the Inquisition once predominated, the flicker of our Hanukkah candles now prevails.”

Freund also mentioned that of the various graffiti that is still on the walls of the prison’s solitary confinement cells, at least two are written in Hebrew.
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