Jeff Montanari

Southern Italy’s Jewish Revival: The Citadel

Move over Milano, Roma and Bologna as you have been ignoring the greatest revival right below you, literally. The south east side of Italy along the Adriatic Sea has a vast history in Judaism. From the Spanish Inquisition exodus of Jews which left around 1492 and arrived in Italy’s east coast and recreated identical shuls in a time of welcoming and peace between peoples. And prior to the 1300s when now famous Rabbi Isaac Melchizedek of Siponto operated at the time the central yeshiva and was himself a noted Mishna commentator, to Trani where four medieval shuls were built over time as one of the largest Jewish communities until political environments created anti-Semitism around 1380 and the shuls were confiscated by the church and all Jews in the city were forces to convert to Christianity. Beyond this, there is additional history, not all positive regarding the incarceration of Jews during the fascist period in Italy of World War II in areas of Albertobello, Manfredonia, and Bari.

But today, in Barletta, a revival of great proportions is about to rise that will return Southern Italy to the forefront of great Jewish pride as Professor Francesco Lotoro and his team are working diligently to restore Southern Italy again as a central hub of Judaism for generations to come. I am proud to be a supporter and a part of this great work that will be not just a university and a shul but the biggest tourist attraction for Jews from Israel, Europe and America that Italy has seen in over 800 years.

This new complex in Barletta is called “The Citadel”. Very few people in this world have a vision to dive deep into history for the grand mitzvah of the preservation of Jewish heritage. Professor Francesco Lotoro is one of those very special tzadik type individuals that has gone to great extensive lengths to revive and restore the memory and history of those who died tragically in the Shoa. Lotoro’s international acclaimed efforts are compiled in a documentary movie called “The Maestro” and now his 8000+ manuscripts of music will be preserved for generations of learners in the developing historical complex in Barletta called “The Citadel”. This project consists of a university level program for the study of concentrationary work including a bookstore, theatre, shul, restaurant, library and a museum.

Why is this such a critical project? The mitzvot of restoring Judaism in an area of the world with a rich history is extremely important. The work of The Citadel is a fixed reminder of the Shoa and the memories of those who lost lives, their heart, passion and their human person. This complex will keep alive the truth of those who suffered against a backlash of those who wish to rewrite history and deny the truths of the Shoa. His work revives plays, compositions, poetry, music and documentation of the heart in ways never before understood or known. It is truly a passion of love and an incredible investment of time to such lost documents restored and categorically compiled in one location.

The revival of the community of Trani, which is minutes away from the Barletta complex, the remaining Jewish families are encouraged and excited that such a hub of Judaism which will be central to Jewish tourism, rabbinical conferences and the recognition of a community that has been lost and forgotten by the larger communities of Italy and the world is rising. Trani today has the restored and re-koshered shul which was confiscated by and used as a church, returned to the Jewish people. The Citadel will be the lifeline for the emergence of a revival of Judaism like never before or Trani and Barletta, in a unique and powerful way. This isn’t a new community for the sake of another community, this is a restoration of a lost history, returning to shine the light of Judaism once again to the world from Southern Italy, a place of former glory, a place of former pain, but now a place of a bright future for those who wish to see Hashem’s truths, grace, history and unity restored for his people.

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About the Author
Dr. Jeff Montanari, author of "God Made You a Jew", a theological expose' on combatting missionaries. Dr. Montanari discusses issues between religious faiths in defense of Judaism. He is a graduate of Regent University and Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim. An endorsed military Orthodox Jewish chaplain with the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, Civil Air Patrol. He is also a blogger with The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, Arutz Sheva 7 and is a lifetime member of the Jewish War Veterans, a member of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER). He holds membership as a Daedalian, the Naval Order of the United States and Military Order of the Loyal Legions of the United States. He is a former associate Rabbi at Congregation Pirchei Shoshanim, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Pacific Region District chaplain, and an Orange County Sheriff’s Department chaplain. Ari Ben Avraham A.A, B.A., M.A., M.Rav., D.MIN.
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