Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Jewish Side of Palermo

Palestinian Jews lived in Sicily simultaneously to the Romans. The city of Palermo was a home to them and later to Berber Jews from the Maghreb for over sixteen centuries. There is no doubt that having lived side by side with a people of such an ancient history and culture, the Sicilians have made some Jewish traditions their own. This can mostly be seen in Sicilian cooking and food, which has been influenced not only by the Jews but by the Arabs. Try to keep Sicilians away from artichokes, arancini or their love of cooking much of their food in olive oil flavored with garlic, and you are in trouble.

For centuries, the Jewish people prospered in the silk industry, as coral, gold and silver artisans, and in all kinds of commerce to the undeniable benefit of the city of Palermo and of all of Sicily, but in 1493 they were forced to leave as the Spanish King Ferdinand's edict from the previous year was enforced in all his territories in Southern Italy.

It was a terrible loss for the Sicilian people, as testified by a number of letters from the local government pleaing with the king to change his mind.

Today there are no longer any practicing Sicilian Jews on the island although quite a number of Sicilian families can trace their roots to Jewish ancestors.

Editor's Note: Jackie's tours, including Judaic Palermo, are described at

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