Synagogues Without Jews: photos. "Dating from the 4th century B.C.E., Ancona was an independent city, willing, in the Middle Ages, to augment its Jewish population in order to benefit from its skills. The port's brisk maritime commerce attracted merchants and Jewish traders with Levantine ties. By the 14th century, Ancona's Jewish population was second in size in Italy only to that of Rome. Fifteenth century popes levied heavy taxes on the Jews and then the Friars of the Franciscan Order seriously encroached on Jewish livelihood when they competitively expanded their money-lending network to include Ancona in 1490.

The port city was a welcome sanctuary in the 16th century for Jews who had been persecuted in Iberia and expelled or forced to convert. When it came under the Papal State in 1532, the city eagerly invited Levantines and Jews to help develop its commerce. Papal authorities at first concurred with the wisdom of this policy and guaranteed protection in Ancona to a hundred families of Portuguese conversos (Jews forced to convert, also called "New Christians").

The attitude changed drastically when the former head of the Inquisition took over the Papacy as Paul IV (1555-1559) and launched one of the most wretched periods in the history of Italy's Jews. Decreeing a ghetto in Ancona, he forbade Jewish worship in all but one synagogue. The empty buildings were purposely left standing, for the taxes. Conversos were the special target of the pope's vicious pursuit, particularly those of Ancona. In 1556 his emissaries threw a hundred of them into prison and the Inquisition tribunal condemned 50 of them to die.

The outstanding Jewess of her day, Dona Gracia Nasi, came to their aid by recruiting the help of Sultan Suleiman. She managed to save the Turkish subjects among them, but 26 Jews were burned at the stake. This atrocity aroused Jews throughout the Mediterranean basin to their first militant act against the popes' excessive power. Dona Gracia initiated an effective boycott of Ancona's port. Two years later, commercially deprived and in fear of more papal reprisals, the Jews of Ancona reluctantly terminated the boycott. The Church adjusted its policy to extract revenue at every turn. After expelling the Jews from papal cities in 1569, it exempted from taxes a few large kehillot, including Ancona. Jews still had to pay taxes on the 115 synagogues left behind in the emptied ghettos.

Because wealth led to ostentation by Jewish merchants, importers and textile magnates, Ancona rabbis felt it necessary in 1766 to post Hebrew notices in the ghetto to announce rules of constraint, particularly at weddings. The rabbis limited spending on flowers, the number of dishes served and the number of guests invited-except for the invited poor. In contrast, the city's proletarian Jews led a harsh and dreary life. They were mostly peddlers, tailors or second hand dealers.

In February 1797, Napoleon's forces took Ancona. The Jews rejoiced as the French forces broke down the ghetto walls. But again, the brunt of the victors' taxation fell upon the Jewish community. During the French occupations of 1797 to 1799 and 1800 to 1814, the Jews enjoyed full civil equality in Ancona. In 1814, with Napoleon's final retreat, the ghetto was reinstated. Hospitals expelled wounded or sick Jews; all the former restrictive conditions were restored

The period of liberation and political unification of Italy, the Risorgimento, began about 1750 and lasted until 1870. The Jewish communities threw themselves into this movement with all their soul. The Ancona ghetto was abolished in 1830 and the 1848 uprising brought about a more liberal attitude towards the Jews. A year after the papal commander destroyed the Levantine synagogue during a siege in 1860, the Risorgimento armies liberated the region of Marche, which joined the kingdom of Italy and the Jews of Ancona were granted full civil rights.Emancipated, the Jews integrated into Italian society, with increasing frequency of intermarriage as the years went by. Nevertheless, Ancona Jews took an interest in Jewish revival and Zionism. During World War II, 400 Jews of the Ancona kehillah survived by paying large sums in ransom." [February 2009]

CEMETERY: Via Flaminia, 563,60015 Falconara Marittima, AncĂ´ne (Marche), Italy. 071 9174657

Last Updated on Friday, 19 February 2010 08:59