Skip To Content
Fast Forward

In southern Italy, the Catholic Church saved Hanukkah

For the Jewish community of Serrastretta, a small town In Italy’s southern Calabria region, it seemed like communal Hanukkah celebrations would be impossible this year — until an unexpected savior came to the rescue.

Still recovering from more than 70,000 deaths as one of the world’s early coronavirus hot spots, Italy’s strict social distancing laws meant that even the small Jewish community of Serrastretta could not fit within the space of their synagogue while still maintaining 6 feet of distance between congregants. In mountainous Calabria, an outdoor service was a no-go in winter.

Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sud, whose name means “the eternal light of the south” in a mixture of Hebrew and Italian, is the first synagogue in Calabria in modern history. Its congregation is largely composed of Bnei Anusim, descendants of Jews forced to convert to Catholicism during the churches’ inquisitions.

However, the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle reports, it was the Church who came to the rescue this year, when local parish priest, Don Antonio Costantino, offered up his church, Chiesa di Santa Maria del Perpetua Soccorso, as an alternative location for the congregation to observe Hanukkah.

The synagogue’s rabbi, Barbara Aiello, a Pittsburgh native of Calabrian descent who is the first female rabbi to operate in Italy, quickly accepted the offer — and invited Costantino and his congregation to take part in the ceremony.

“Adon olam, Spirit of the Universe, God of our understanding, You are called by many names. The words we use to honor you are different and diverse. Help us see that beneath all these differences we are all connected,” the two spiritual leaders said together at the ceremony, alternating between English and Italian, before lighting some 50 menorahs, a part of the synagogue’s own Hanukkah tradition.

It wasn’t the local church leader’s first effort to build ties with the Jewish community.

“In the days following the Tree of Life tragedy, Don Antonio and our mayor, Felice Molinaro, approached me to organize a memorial for those who were killed,” Aiello told the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.