For the first time in over 1,500 years, the ruins of a synagogue dating back to the 4th century in the Calabria area of southern Italy hosted a Jewish wedding, a historic and emotional event.
Dr. Roque Pugliese and Dr. Ivana Pezzoli, both of whom are Bnei Anousim, descendants of Iberian Jews forcibly converted during the 14th and 15th centuries, were married last week in a moving and momentous ceremony at the site of the synagogue, the second-oldest found in Europe.
Pugliese’s parents hid their Jewish roots while he grew up in Calabria and Argentina. Upon discovering his heritage, Pugliese decided to formally return to Judaism with assistance from the Shavei Israel organization. Pezzoli was raised with certain Jewish traditions in her family, but was never told why. Upon researching her family history, she found that she had Jewish roots and embarked on an extensive study of Judaism for more than eight years before undergoing formal conversion.
Pugliese and Pezzoli, both of whom are medics and met while working at a local hospital, are now living religiously observant Jewish lives.
The wedding took place last Tuesday in the archaeological park adjacent to the southern Italian seaside village of Bova Marina where the remains of a synagogue were unearthed in 1983 during the construction of a road. Among the artifacts discovered at the site were a mosaic floor with colorful tiles portraying images of a Menorah, a shofar, and a lulav and etrog, as well as a walled niche where the Aron Kodesh, the Holy Ark which contained Torah scrolls, once stood.
The ruins face directly towards Jerusalem. Pugliese and Pezzoli chose the site for their Jewish wedding as a tribute to their ancestors.
“It was a remarkably moving experience to watch Roque and Ivana get married under the Chupa amid the ruins of Bova Marina’s ancient synagogue,” said Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund, who assisted the couple with their return to their Jewish roots and was invited as a special guest.
“Their wedding symbolizes the eternity of the Jewish people and we hope it will inspire other descendants of Jews in southern Italy to return to their roots,” he said, adding that “against all the odds, the Jewish spark in southern Italy and Sicily continues to glimmer after so many centuries.”
“We must intensify our outreach efforts to the Bnei Anousim of southern Italy and help them to reconnect with their heritage,” he concluded.