By Penny Parnes
On April 2, Kulanu Canada, in partnership with the Lodzer Centre and Darchei Noam’s Jewish Diversity Committee, presented the film The Mystery of San Nicandro. More than 100 people attended the event, and besides the screening, there was lively discussion about Kulanu Canada’s projects and about the content of the film.
The film, by producer/director Vanessa Dylyn, is based on a book by Professor John Davis, about a group of Italian Roman Catholics in a small village who underwent a mass conversion to Judaism in Fascist Italy. Over a period of 20 years of observing Jewish practices, they left Italy and emigrated to the new state of Israel in 1949.
In the making of the film, the producer discovered a bigger story: that of the powerful revival of Judaism in Southern Italy. About 10 years ago, Rabbi Barbara Aiello, Italy’s first female rabbi, opened the first synagogue in Serrastreta, Italy, in 500 years. She serves the new communities of Jewish presence in Calabria and Sicily, and more recently Pugalia and Sardinia, all areas with an ancient Jewish population before The Spanish Inquisition forced Jews to flee.
The spirit that called the converts of San Nicandro back to Judaism has also been stirring in North America, where many people of Italian origin are discovering links to a Jewish past.