15 December - 18 December 2022

Viva l'Italia

Never before the creation of the State of Israel did Jews of so many varied origins live together, and in such a stimulating (if at times threatening) environment as in the land they called in Hebrew I-Tal-Yah, “Island of Divine Dew.” A crossroad in world culture, Italy has been for over two thousand years a haven for several layers of immigration from the four comers of the Diaspora. This has made it possible for the peculiar Italian, Sephardi (or Spagnoli) and Ashkenazi (or Tedeschi) identities, rituals, and traditions to coexist. It all began at the dawn of the Modem Era, in the Renaissance ghettos, and continued during the Emancipation (19th century) and up to the present. The 2022 Festival is dedicated to these traditions.

Distinct Judeo-Italian dialects, foods, customs, and melodies were created over time, showing the influence of the communities where they originated, even after Yiddish and Ladino had been abandoned as spoken languages. Italian Jews successfully navigated their way amongst tradition, diversity, religious conflicts, emancipation, cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism, all at the very heart of Christianity.

Italy’s own peculiar history is indeed reflected in its Jewish melodies. Each community developed a style of synagogue song according to its origins. Some groups retained the ancient Italian minhag (ritual), which differs from the Sephardi and the Ashkenazi ones especially in the cantillation of the Torah (Hebrew Pentateuch) and in the pronunciation of Hebrew. At the same time, Jews who immigrated to Italy over time kept their original (Sephardi, Ashkenazi) rituals, but adapted them to the Jewish and non-Jewish Italian musical environments, often adopting the local pronunciation of Hebrew. In all communities, the impact of Italian art and popular music was tremendous: folk tunes, as well as Italy’s most celebrated music, Opera and bel canto vocal style, were incorporated into the liturgy. Some Jewish melodies created in Italy were disseminated throughout the Diaspora, where they may still be found.

Due to migrations, persecutions and assimilation, many musical traditions extant until before World War II are now lost. Nevertheless, the contemporary Italian Jewish community of less than thirty thousand people, with its local differences and currents, still retains its multicultural world in its music.

Francesco Spagnolo