(Israel Hayom/Exclusive to JNS.org) In a ceremony in Palermo, Italy, the local archbishop announced Thursday that the site containing ruins of the city's ancient synagogue is being returned to the local Jewish community. The community plans to build a new synagogue—the first in 524 years in Palermo, a city situated on the island of Sicily—near the ruins of the old one.
The Jews of Sicily were expelled Jan. 12, 1493. The synagogue was destroyed, and the site on which it stood was taken over by the Roman Catholic Church and the monastery of St. Nicolo Tolentino. Since then, there has been no Jewish activity in Palermo.
Thursday's ceremony was held at the Historical Archives of Palermo, which like the monastery was built on the ruins of the synagogue. The decision to return the site to the Jewish community was made in response to a request by the Shavei Israel organization, a group dedicated to helping "lost" Jews worldwide reclaim their roots and re-embrace Judaism, and the Sicilian Institute for Jewish Studies. The ceremony was attended by hundreds of descendants of anusim—Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity but continued to practice Judaism in secret.
“Locating the new synagogue on the ancient ruins of the Great Synagogue of Palermo makes this historic moment especially exciting,” Archbishop of Palermo Corrado Lorefice said.