|Entering the old Jewish quarter. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber|
By Ruth Ellen Gruber
The Vancouver Sun runs an article by Amy Stone about Pitigliano, the one-time "Little Jerusalem" in southern Tuscany -- and my choice for possibly the alltime most stunning Italian hill town (see my own article posted here a few months ago).
In the ghetto (indistinguishable today from the rest of the old city), the synagogue and its underground maze with an oven for baking matzo (unleavened Passover bread), the remains of the mikvah ritual bath, a kosher butcher, and “cantina” for pressing and storing kosher wine preserve the Jewish past. A small museum is a new addition.
An elegant and curvaceous Italian beauty, the synagogue was built in 1598 and lovingly restored in the 1990s. Its rounded wooden lectern and carved pews have been meticulously reconstructed, along with the grey-and-white marble floor. Spidery chandeliers hang from the ceiling.
Miraculously, in the 1960s, when walls of the abandoned building collapsed into the ravine, the women’s gallery survived. Once again visitors can climb the stairs for the female eye view of the synagogue through the elaborately carved wooden screen.
One of only three Jews still living in Pitigliano, Elena Servi is the spirit behind what remains of Jewish life. The last matzo was baked in 1939, and the last Yom Kippur service was held 20 years later.