Putting Florence's Jewish History Into the Spotlight

Italian Community Has Its Very Own Duomo

A Dome Away From Home: Dedicated in 1882, Florence’s synagogue is a monument to 19th century Jewish emancipation and a grand example of Moorish style architecture, with a soaring arched façade and two slim side towers.
Thinkstock
A Dome Away From Home: Dedicated in 1882, Florence’s synagogue is a monument to 19th century Jewish emancipation and a grand example of Moorish style architecture, with a soaring arched façade and two slim side towers.

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Published November 05, 2013, issue of November 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

“I believe that there is no life for the Jewish community in the future unless that life becomes part of the life of Florence,” said Fink, who was the prime mover behind the project. “I’m not afraid that the Jewish community will die, but it needs to be part of what happens around it.”

The idea of the Café, therefore, was not just to entertain with concerts and aperitifs, but, he said, to serve as “a way to start building relations between the town, the synagogue and the Jewish community — and that’s what happened.”

About 300 people turned up for the first Café in early June — most of them Jewish community members and their friends. But each week the numbers grew, thanks to enthusiastic local media coverage as well as word of mouth.

“It conquered the city,” journalist Fulvio Paloscia wrote in La Repubblica. By the summer’s last Café, on Aug. 29 — where I was featured in a public conversation with Fink about Jewish culture and mainstream society — the event drew 800 people. Crowds milled about the garden and listened to two concerts, one by a klezmer band and one by Sephardic singer Evelina Meghnagi. They also mobbed the food stand, where some 450 kosher meals were sold.

Retired computer systems operator Giuseppe Budillon told me he came every week. “I am Christian but I am attracted to the Jewish community,” he said. “This Café Balagan is doing a lot.”

In sharp contrast to other days of the week, security seemed minimal — people could enter with their phones, cameras and backpacks. Cividali said this, too, sent a message. “Security can’t impede us from living,” she told me. “And I feel that the more open we are, the safer we are, as the synagogue and garden are felt to belong to the city.”

Renzo Funaro, vice president of the Foundation for Jewish Heritage in Italy, called the Café “a cultural revolution.” It was, he told me, “the first time that the Jewish community’s garden became an element of Florentine culture.”

What’s more, unaffiliated Jews who had had nothing to do with organized Jewish life in Florence also began turning up, thanks to the buzz. And volunteers came from as far away as Siena each week to help.

The question for the community now is where to go from here. “The success this summer has paved the way for future activities,” Fink told me. Plans for new initiatives this fall and winter, Fink said, could include a “Balagan Shabbat,” or open Shabbat dinner on Friday nights, as well as smaller indoor events such as book launches.

The non-Jewish Florence mainstream, Fink said, “now perceives this as a place they can expect to come to — not somewhere that is fenced off. This creates a better situation for everyone.”

Ruth Ellen Gruber is a frequent contributor to the Forward.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.