Jewish life in Italy

Haley Keding

Italy, traditionally known as the Catholic capital of the world, has a detailed Jewish history, said Francesco Spagnolo in a speech on Monday titled, “The Jewish Theory of Everything: An Introduction to Italian Jewry.”

Spagnolo, the curator for The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life in Berkeley, California, said modern advancements originated with 16th century Jews. He even challenged his audience of more than 30 people that met in the Student Center, to prove him wrong in his statement that everything Jewish began during this specific time period.

“You give me anything you know about the Jews, and I’ll prove it came from Italy,” Spagnolo said.

Jews living in Italy specifically contributed to progressions in banking systems, the printing press and even food. However, one of the more prominent features of Italy in the 1500s was “the melting pot and a stew of cultural diversity.”

“The Brooklyn of the 1550s was Venice,” Spagnolo said. “Everybody wanted to have a place in Venice and so did the Jews.”

With American students living in a multicultural society, Spagnolo said he believes students should expand their knowledge of Italy’s diverse history to better understand the modern world.

Chaya Kessler, the Jewish Studies program director at Kent State University, said she agrees that knowledge of Jews in Italy would benefit students.

Because Kent State encourages students to study abroad, especially in Florence, Kessler said it would be interesting for Jewish students to learn about Judaism in Italy.

“For students, it’s all about learning something new and different and this is the new and the different,” she said.

Freshman public relations major Julia Kelley said she was excited to learn more about Jewish life in Italy because to her, “Italy and Judaism don’t sound like they would go together.”

 “I came for extra credit in my Italian class, but this could be something beneficial for both inside and outside of school,” Kelley said.

Spagnolo also spoke earlier in the day at a conference at Youngstown State titled “Jewish Music and Jewish Identity,” where he discussed music and its representation in the Italian Jewish identity.

Contact Haley Keding at [email protected].