I.O.H.I. Archives


Italian Oral History Institute

Italian Jews: Memory, Music, Celebration
Los Angeles, October 24 - November 5, 2001
with the co-sponsorship of

Istituto Italiano di Cultura of Los Angeles
Center for European and Russian Studies, UCLA
Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel
Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, UCLA
Bess Lomax Hawes Archives, California State University Northridge
Center for Jewish Studies, UCLA
Hillel, UCLA
and the support of
Skirball Cultural Center
Cultural Affairs, Consulate of Israel
Slow Food Convivium of Los Angeles

Please check this Web site again in September for ongoing program updates and registration information.

P r o g r a m

(see event descriptions immediately following Program)


F i l m

October 24 & November 5, 7:00 p.m.

Istituto Italiano di Cultura (Sala Rossellini)

Feature and documentary films on the Italian Jewish experience which explore Rome and Roman Jews during the war years (The Jews of Rome: 1938-1944 and L'oro di Roma)l; religious spaces of community ritual, the synagogues of the region of Piedmont (Sinagoghe di Piemonte); as well as a dark film on religions in tension, in a newly-released film about the forced conversions of Jews during the Inquisition (Confortorio).

Wednesday, October 24, 7:00 p.m.

R e l i g i o u s   S p a c e s   of   C o m f o r t   a n d   C o n f l i c t

1)  Confortorio (video, in Italian)
2)  Sinagoghe di Piemonte (video, in Italian)

Monday, November 5, 7:00 p.m.

T h e    J e w s   o f   R o m e :    T h e   W a r   Y e a r s
1)  The Jews of Rome:  1938-1944, (video, in Italian)
Presented by Daisy Miller
(Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, Los Angeles)

and a hidden child survivor herself (in Italy).

2) L'oro di Roma (video, in Italian)

  M u s i c
T H I S  P E R F O R M A N C E  O N L Y !

 Thursday, October 25, 2001, 7:00 p.m.

Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel

7:00 - 7:45 p.m. L e c t u r e
Feeling Italian and Singing the Bible: National and Jewish Identity in the Music of the Italian Jews
Dr. Francesco Spagnolo Director, Yuval Italia Italian Center for the Study of Jewish Music, Milano, Italy  
8:00 - 9:00 p.m. C o n c e r t
Music of the Italian Jews:  Hazanut from Italian Tradition
Authentic voices from Italian tradition:
featuring songs from Milano, Torino, Verona, Gorizia and Trieste
sung in this engagement only by
Cantor, Rabbi Elia Richetti
(Venice, Italy)
[Suggested donation $5at the door.
First-come, first-served; no rsvp required.]

Contact: Susan Tobey, Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, 10500 Wilshire Blvd. (corner Wilshire and Warner Ave., Westwood), 310/475-7311. Parking at no charge at Temple or across the street at Westwood United Methodist Church.

F  o  o  d
Thursday, October 25, 4:00 p.m.
California State University, Northridge

(Whitsett Room, 4th Floor, Sierra Hall)
Steve Siporin, Sfrati and Vino Kasher:  Jewish Food Without Jews (Lecture)
Reception to follow
[Sponsored by the CSUN Department of Anthropology, Bess Lomax Hawes, Folklore Archive, College of Humanities, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Department of modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, and the Jewish Studies Program.
Directions: CSUN is located on Nordhoff and Reseda in the San Fernando Valley.  From the 405: exit at Nordhoff; take Nordhoff St. west to Reseda.  Turn right on Reseda; turn right on Prairie and go to the Information Booth for parking instructions.  From the 101: exit at Reseda; take Reseda north to Prairie.  Turn right on Prairie and go to the Information Booth for parking directions.  Sierra Hall is located near the corner of Prairie and Etiwanda.
For further information on Siporin lecture contact:  Prof. Sabina Magliocco, Department of Anthropology, California State University ­ Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge, CA  91330, (818) 677-3331 or [email protected]]

F o o d

Sunday, October 28, 11:30 a.m.
Skirball Cultural Center
A Glimpse into the Food Culture of Italian Jews:  The unique food traditions of Italian Jews are explored by food writers, ethnographers, and chefs.  This program will provide a glimpse into the culinary history of this little known cultural group and the delicious tastes of Italian Jewish (kosher) foods themselves in a buffet lunch prepared by chef Evan Kleiman.  

P a n e l   D i s c u s s i o n
Evan Kleiman (moderator),  Writer, Cucina fresca, Pasta fresca, Cucina rustica (with Viana La Place), Angeli Caffè Pizza Pasta Panini; chef/owner of Angeli Caffè; host "Good Food," KCRW;  convener of the Slow Food Convivium of Los Angeles;
Joyce Goldstein, Writer: Cucina Ebraica, The Mediterranean Kitchen, Back to Square One, Kitchen Conversations; Restaurant and Food Industry Consultant
Judy Zeidler, Writer, Master Chefs Cook Kosher, Thirty Minute Kosher Cookbook. The Gourmet Jewish Cook; TV host, "Judy's Kitchen;" restaurateur

Steve Siporin
, Professor, Folklore Program, Utah State University; Ethnographer of Italian Jewish folk cultures
L u n c h
A selection of Italian Jewish foods will be served in a buffet lunch immediately following the panel discussion.
Registration: The Skirball food program fee (including lunch): $35. IOHI, Slow Food, and Skirball members: $30. Seating is limited and will be confirmed by prepayment only. No registration at the door. Call for availability and indicate whether you would like to be placed on a waiting list. Register for this event separately by mailing payment (by check only, made out to the IOHI) to: Italian Oral History Institute, P.O. Box 241553, Los Angeles, CA 90024-1553


I n t e r n a t i o n a l   S y m p o s i u m
Monday, October 29, 9:00 a.m. ­ 5:30 p.m.
314 Royce Hall, UCLA

Italian Jews:  Memory, Music, Celebration
Pre-registration required: $15 donation for full-day symposium. Free to IOHI members and to UCLA students, faculty and staff. Send your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address along with donation to pre-register. UCLA and IOHI members must also pre-register. Registration at the door cannot be guaranteed.
IOHI Membership: to become a member of IOHI go to Web site: /pages/membership.html
Membership categories are: Basic: $30, Student: $20, Organization: $50, Sponsor: $50-100, Contributor: $100-250, Benefactor: $250. For further information on the IOHI, go to Web site: www.iohi.org.

Payment: Make checks payable to the Italian Oral History Institute and mail to:
Italian Oral History Institute
P.O. Box 241553
Los Angeles, CA 90024-1553.
Symposium Program
I. M E M O R Y
Alessandro Portelli, On the Threshold of the Genocide: The Jews of Rome at the Vatican Border
              Professor of American Studies, University "La Sapienza," Rome
Jessica Wiederhorn, Italian Jews: Segments of Testimony from the Shoah Foundation Visual History Archives
             Manager of Academic Affairs, Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, Los Angeles
Steve Siporin, The Jews of Pitigliano: A Minority in Folklore, Memory, and Monument
              Professor of Folklore, Utah State University, Logan
Guido Fink, Visible and Invisible Jews in the Italian Cinema

Director of the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Los Angeles, Professor of Am. Studies, University of Florence.




Francesco Spagnolo, Feeling Italian and Singing the Bible: National and Jewish Identity in the Music of the Italian Jews
           Director, Center for the Study of Jewish Music, Milano, Italy
James Westby, Castelnuovo-Tedesco: An Italian Jew in Los Angeles

Professor of Musicology, Manager, Brown-Buckley, Inc., Los Angeles

[N.B.: Francesco Spagnolo's lecture, Feeling Italian and Singing the Bible: National and Jewish Identity in the Music of the Italian Jews, will precede the concert: Music of the Italian Jews: Hazanut from Italian Tradition, (T H I S  P E R F O R M A N C E  O N L Y) sung by Cantor, Rabbi Elia Richetti (Venice, Italy) on Thursday, October 25, 7:00 p.m. at the Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, Westwood. [For further details, please see program for Thursday, Oct. 25.]
Paula Matthews-Leos: Judeo-Italian: Linguistic Challenge, Cultural Treasure
             C.Phil., Romance Linguistics & Literature Program, UCLA
Ann Signet, Readings from Judeo-Roman Poet Crescenzo del Monteís Works: Sonetti Giudaico-Romaneschi, Nuovi Sonetti Giudaico-Romaneschi, Sonetti Postumi (in Roman dialect and in English translation)

Program Organizer: Luisa Del Giudice

Italian Oral History Institute
P.O. Box 241553
Los Angeles, CA 90024-1553
Tel: (310) 474-1698
Fax: (310) 474-3188
E-mail: [email protected]

Italian Jews: Memory, Music, Celebration
(Event descriptions: lectures, films, music)


L e c t u r e s
Alessandro Portelli, On the Threshold of the Genocide: The Jews of Rome at the Vatican Border. This paper is about a marginal time and a transitional place: a boundary that had to be crossed before the victims were taken to their final destination. This time and place have been almost forgotten in history, yet they are crucial because the fate of Rome's Jews, the role of the Church, the identity of the city of Rome hung suspended for almost 48 hours, from October 16 to 18, when the deportees were held in the Army College at Palazzo Salviati, two blocks from the pentitentiary of Regina Coeli, and less than half a mile from the Vatican.
Steve Siporin, The Jews of Pitigliano: A Minority in Folklore, Memory, and Monument. How does the present community of Pitigliano, Italy, construct its memory of the former Jewish minority? Pitigliano, nicknamed "the little Jerusalem," is a special case. In spite of its small size and rural location, Pitigliano was home to a significant Jewish population from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. Although absolute numbers were never great, the Jewish population of Pitigliano was proportionately larger than in any other town or city in Italy. Today only three Jews remain. Yet Jewish heritage is a vital concern of the commune.
Pitigliano's Jewish heritage is displayed today in a way it never was before. The synagogue has been restored and the ghetto area is being reconstructed; there is an annual Jewish film festival and Jewish music concerts. A "Little Jerusalem Association" encourages Jewish activities although its local membership is mainly non-Jewish. In public displays one can discern a mix of motives (ranging from economic development and tourism to conscientious conservation) and of attitudes (from nostalgia to the desire to set the historical record right).
This fascinating mix of motives and attitudes funnels into an emerging shared construction of the memory of Jewish Pitigliano just as the last Jews of Pitigliano regretfully relinquish the stewardship of their own heritage. It is an important moment for reflection.
Jessica Wiederhorn, Italian Jews: Segments of Testimony from the Shoah. Foundation Visual History Archives. The Shoah Foundation has videotaped more than 50,000 testimonies of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust in 32 languages, by people living in 57 countries. Each videotaped testimony consists of a single survivor or witness of the Holocaust speaking about his or her life before, during, and after the war guided by questions from a Shoah Foundation interviewer. More than 400 of these interviews were conducted in Italy - many more interviews with Italian survivors living in other countries were conducted as well. The narratives offer an understanding of events as they were lived and filtered through personal reflection. The segments of testimony presented here are examples of interviews with survivors born in Italy, but having emigrated to English speaking countries, their testimonies are in the English language.
Steve Siporin, Sfrati and Vino Kasher: Jewish Food Without Jews. Two items a tourist to Pitigliano might sample and even take home are the locally produced kosher wines and sfrati, a local pastry said to be of Jewish origin. Sfrati even comes with a printed legend explaining its origin, conveniently attached. These items are not only for sale to tourists but also are consumed by local people. The wine is shipped to other Jewish communities in Italy.
Since only three Jews remain in Pitigliano, in what sense are these foods Jewish? What does it mean to ask such a question in this context? On the one hand these food items exemplify the commodification of Jewish heritage that is now taking place in Pitigliano, as elsewhere--they are commercial products that can be sold to outsiders. But they signify the commodification of a particular, local Jewish heritage and not Jewish heritage in the abstract. (Thus, paradoxically, American Jews may be outsiders and non-Jewish Pitiglianesi may be insiders.) I plan to show how these two foods may provide ways to understand the current cultural dynamics of Jewish heritage in Pitigliano, the "little Jerusalem" of Italy--as it says on each bottle of kosher wine.
Guido Fink, Visible and Invisible Jews in the Italian Cinema. Although it is well known that Jews have been living in what is now Italy since ancient Roman times, the image of the Jew has, until only recently, been notably absent from Italian cinema. Luckily we never had a Jud Suss, not even during the Fascist regime, but neither would we later have a Shoah, a Sorrow and the Pity, nor a Schindlerís List.  Yet the hitherto almost unknown history of the representation of Jewishness in (and of the Jewish contribution to) Italian cinema may be extremely significantórevealing, among other things, how Italian popular culture felt toward a minority that for a long time would remain the only example of a straniero interno,, a foreign-but-not-so-foreign presence in Italian society. This lecture includes video excerpts from such classics as Paisan to such recent and little known works as Confortorio.
Francesco Spagnolo, Feeling Italian and Singing the Bible: National and Jewish Identity in the Music of the Italian Jews. The study of Italian Jewish oral traditions has been enriched by the extensive field work carried on by Italian-Israeli researcher Leo Levi (1912-1986) throughout the 1950's. His unique endeavor, sponsored by RAI (the Italian National Radio) and the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, made it possible to preserve approximately 55 hours of recordings of Italian Jewish songs. This repertoire, almost entirely liturgical, gives an account of the state of the melodic differentiations in use in various Italian communities prior WWII. Rome, Pitigliano, Florence, Siena Leghorn, Ancona, Ferrara, Padua, Venice, Trieste, Gorizia, as well as the multicultural landscape of Jewish Piedmont (Turin, Casale Monferrato, Alessandria, Asti, Fossano, and Moncalvo), showed a rich variety of musical dimensions, reflecting their local histories.
The cultural landscape revealed by this invaluable collection -- which is finally been catalogued and studied in collaboration with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem -- is that of an extraordinary complexity. Italian, Sefardi, and Ashkenazi origins mingled in the peninsula, allowing its Jewish population to create a peculiar identity, shaped on their Jewish heritage as well as on their local and national non-Jewish cultural models. Thus, the liturgical songs of the Italian Jews bear traces of ancient tunes originating both in Italy and in other parts of the Jewish world, mixed with Italian folk tunes, operatic arias, and hymns of the Risorgimento.
The recordings of Leo Levi are today the only testimony of a musical world that began disappearing before WWII, when most communities were abandoned in favor of the larger urban centers. Among the many aspects of this repertoire, the presentation will favour both an ethnomusicological approach and an anthropological perspective. The interaction between Jewish and co-territorial music leaves some recurrent Jewish elements untouched, and at the same time welcomes certain aspects of a musical "Italian-ness," thus creating a specific national identity, peculiar to Italian Jews.
James Westby, Castelnuovo-Tedesco: An Italian Jew in Los Angeles. A Jewish émigré from Fascist Italy, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968) arrived in Los Angeles in the fall of 1940 and began a new career as a Hollywood film composer. In addition to his musical compositions, Castelnuovo-Tedesco was a prolific writer who left several written accounts of various aspects of the Jewish/Italian experience. Using these documents, this paper describes how the Castelnuovo-Tedesco family constructed its Jewish identity, the Jewish community in Florence in the early 20th century, Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Jewish musical compositions, the experience of the forced emigration to America, and the complex culture of Jewish Hollywood and Los Angeles.
Paula Matthews-Leos, Judeo-Italian: Linguistic Challenge, Cultural Treasure. While it would be virtually impossible today to find anyone speaking one of the many varieties of Judeo-Italian, there are numerous texts, both modern and old, which use these beautiful "dialects"  (dialects in parenthesis, for there has been much discussion as to its proper linguistic classification). From Rome, home to Europe's oldest Jewish community and longest standing ghetto (over three hundred years), comes giudaico-romanesco.  This Jewish-Roman dialect, with its particular grammar, vocabulary, and immense Hebrew influence, uniquely mirrors the culture of its people.

The Roman-Jewish poet Crescenzo del Monte (1868-1935) was well aware of the beauty and importance of the language.  Fired by passion and dedication, he strove to preserve both the language and spirit of the Roman Jewish ghetto by writing sonnets in giudaico-romanesco.  His works constitute the only literature we have in this dialect from the early 20th C.  Reading his poems today offers a fascinating view of both the language and culture of a world which has been lost due to the acculturation and assimilation of Italian Jews.


F i l m s
Feature and documentary films on the Italian Jewish experience which explore Rome and Roman Jews during the war years (The Jews of Rome: 1938-1944 and L¹oro di Roma); religious spaces of community ritual, the synagogues of the region of Piedmont (Sinagoghe di Piemonte); as well as a dark film on religions in tension, in a newly-released film about the forced conversions of Jews during the Inquisition (Confortorio).
T h e   J e w s   o f   R o m e :   T h e   W a r   Y e a r s

The Jews of Rome: 1938-1944, (documentary, in Italian without subtitles, 45 min.). On January 27, 2001, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, some European countries observed their first official Holocaust Memorial Day. Italy commemorated il Giorno della Memoria with ceremonies around the country, including the opening of a unique exhibit in Rome. Located in a building that once housed a Gestapo prison, the Museo Storico della Liberazione di Roma (Historical Museum of the Liberation of Rome, also known as via Tasso, after the street where it is located) unveiled a permanent exhibit documenting Jewish life in Rome before the war, the Racial Laws, deportation and liberation. The centerpiece of the exhibit is a 45-minute videotape composed entirely of Shoah Foundation testimonies conducted in Italy. The reel includes excerpts from five survivorsí and two rescuersí interviews. This was the first time Italian testimonies from the Foundationís archives were made available to the Italian public. Interviewer, Elio Limentani, the grandson of survivors, who conducted two of the seven interviews said this:
I thought I was ready to hear anything. Interviewing camp survivors did not frighten me morally, technically, or historically yet, watching my interview with Settimia Spizzichino again last night affected me deeply and enlightened me on the real value of these testimonies.
This 45 minute video will be presented by Daisy Miller (Associate Director for Annual Development, Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, Los Angeles) and a hidden child survivor herself (in Italy). We thank the Museo Storico della Liberazione di Roma for kindly giving their permission to show this video.
Líoro di Roma (feature film, in Italian, without subtitles, 1961, 115 min., video copy) Filmed with professional actors by director Carlo Lizzani, in close collaboration with survivors of the Rome ghetto, this film reconstructs the tragic episode of 1944 when the forces of the German occupation held the Roman community hostage: they would all be deported to Germany, women and children included, if they did not turn over 50 kilograms of pure gold, within 24 hours. While many among the young preferred escape and reunion with groups of the armed resistance, the majority of the community leaders decided to obey: the gold was collected and turned over within 24 hours but the Nazis arrested and deported all the Jews of the ghetto just the same.

R e l i g i o u s   S p a c e s   o f   C o m f o r t   a n d   C o n f l i c t

Confortorio (feature film, in Italian, without subtitles, 1992, 84 min., video copy). Directed by painter and filmmaker, Paolo Benvenuti, and based on documents in the Vatican archives, the film reconstructs the last nights of two young Jewish men accused of theft and condemned to death by the Pontifical authorities. According to Church law, a group of Catholic friars, the so-called "comforters" seeks to convert them to Catholicism, thereby according them, in exchange, assistance to their families, a less tortuous punishment, and, naturally, the salvation of their souls in the afterlife.
Sinagoghe di Piemonte (documentary film, in Italian, without subtitles, 1999, 53 min., video copy). Filmed by Jewish-Turinese director, Daniele Segre, the film presents some of the most beautiful, oldest, and unknown of the synagogues of Piedmont (a Region in the Northwest of Italy). From the 14th century onward many Jews from various parts of Europe settled here, where for the first time, Jews were granted equality with other citizens and the freedom of worship, according to the Albertine Statutes of 1848.

M u s i c

Musical Traditions of the Italian Jews: It is common to associate the Jewish people with the idea of a cosmopolitan culture, capable of fitting into a variety of contexts, always ready for change. Less well known is the history of Jewish life in Italy and its contribution to Jewish culture and life in its broadest sense.
Italian Jews were always very few in number, crowded into the same tight spaces of the Ghettos regardless of their geographic origin. Thus, in the cities of Rome, Venice, Ancona, Ferrara, Livorno, people of the most diverse origins--Spain and Portugal, Central Europe, North Africa and the Middle East--found themselves living together in close quarters.
Well before the myth of the melting pot, and definitely before the popularization of "world music," Jews created their own "fusion" in Italian towns and cities. Their music was sung in synagogues--the primary stage of the Jewish world. Melodies created by these means have been orally transmitted to us as a synthesis of different musical worlds. And as they remained unwritten, they were preserved only through human memory over the centuries.
Although during the 20th century Italian Judaism decreased in its numbers and in diversification, a fair number of original traditions were preserved by a small number of hazanim, the traditional synagogue cantors. During the last part of the century, the migration of Jews from North African (Lybia and Egypt) and the Middle Eastern (Syria and Lebanon) added an extra layer to the complexity of the Italian Jewish musical world.
Over the last four years, Yuval Italia--Centro Studi Musica Ebraica (the Italian Center for the Study of Jewish Music) has been active in researching the diversity of Italian Jewish music, in preserving it, as well as in presenting it to the public through lectures, concerts, as well as via radio and television programs in collaboration with Radio Popolare Milano and RAI-Radiotelevisione Italiana (the Italian national television and radio network).
Yuval Italia's director, Francesco Spagnolo, is currently producing an audio anthology of Italian Jewish liturgical songs based on the field recordings of Leo Levi, who documented Italy's own traditions in the 1950's. A CD will be issued in 2001, as a joint project of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (Rome) and the Jewish Music Research Centre at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
This programís musical presentation will introduce the audience to a variety of synagogue songs from the repertoire of the Italian Jews. During the evening, Rabbi and Cantor Elia Richetti will perform a selection of Bible readings, prayers and piyyutim (liturgical poems) still in use today in several Jewish communities throughout Northern Italy.
Rav Elia Richetti, deputy chief rabbi of the Milano community (and soon to be posted to Venice), is a veritable "thesaurus" of Jewish tunes from Northern Italy. He is deeply familiar with the repertoires of Milano, Torino, Verona, Gorizia and Trieste, and his cantorial skills are well known throughout the country. His voice can be heard every day in the Central Italian Synagogue of Milano. A genuine representative of Italian hazanut, he has been collaborating with Yuval Italia on a number of occasions, presenting his repertoire at the Milano and Bologna Universities, as well as participating in the "Sacri Suoni" (Sacred Sounds), a Milano-based Festival of Liturgial music, together with some of the best hazanim of various traditions from Eretz Israel. In November 2000, he sang at the "House of World Cultures" in Berlin, at the closure of the Jewish Cultural Days.

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