MONDOVI Print
Synagogues Without Jews: photos. "Mondovi is a small town located partly at the summit and partly at the foot of the Regale Mountain in the Piedmont hills of northwestern Italy. Jews first settled in Mondovi in 1580, after expulsions from Spain and southern France.

Jewish moneylenders were vital to the local economy, charging far less interest than the clerical loan banks. Their useful business positions and Mondovi's distance from Rome favored cordial relations with the Christian community. A 1555 papal decree confined Jews to ghettos, but the ruling Italian Savoy dukes avoided complying. Finally, in 1720, an "open" ghetto was established in the upper town on via Vico behind the church. As this was a major thoroughfare, no gate was built to close it off.

Continuing this lax interpretation of papal decrees, Christians lived near the Jews and, oddly, Jews lived in proximity to the church. After the Edict of Emancipation on April 2,1848, Fortuna Estella Levi organized Jewish and Catholic women jointly to donate clothing and goods to families of Piedmont's soldiers fighting for Italian independence. The harmonious relationship obtained as long as Jews lived in Mondovi.

The community was always tiny. A census by Carlo Emanuele III in 1761 listed 64 individuals in 12 Mondovi Jewish families. In 1839, 79 males and 68 females were counted, although this included kehillah participants from valley villages below. In 1869 the population had risen to 200. The kehillah of Turin annexed that of Mondovi and others in 1931. Family names associated with the town include: Levi, Momigliano, Lattes, Ottolenghi, Iona, Foa, Segre and Ortona. Town documents revealed women's personal names such as: Giuditta, Graziosa, Clelia, Diamanta, Sara, Vittoria, Rachele, Ester and Bona.

During World War II, local residents and clergy hid Jews who fled from Turin and six from Mondovi. One of these, Dr. Marco Levi (1910 - 2000) was the last Jew who lived in Mondovi. His forebear, Donato Levi had founded the Mondovi Bank of Exchange and Discount in 1820 and the bank remained in family hands down to Marco, until a merger in 1972. Other Jewish businesses included: raising silkworms, manufacturing and selling silk; a ceramics industry; and an iron foundry established by engineer Giorgio Bassani that supplied the Italian Air Force in WW I. Felice Momigliano (1886 - 1924), an author and politician, bequeathed his extensive book collection to Mondovi's municipal library.

The last rabbi, Ferrucio Servio, left Mondovi in 1905 when fewer than 10 families remained. Never electrified, the synagogue was opened briefly for a wedding in 1924. In 1980, Jewish youths from Turin assisted Israeli architect David Cassuto in cleaning and refurbishing the synagogue. A ketubbah (marriage contract) from 1750, pages of micrography and embossed Torah crowns in 17th century Baroque style were found in the benches of the sanctuary.

The synagogue, dating from the early 18th century, is on the third floor of an apartment building at 65 via Vico. It's decorative style is unique to Piedmont synagogues and survives today only in Chieri, Carmangnola and Cherasco, as well as Mondovi. In the center of the main room an octagonal tevah (reader's desk) is raised two steps above floor level. Six wood panels around the tevah are carved and decorated, leaving one face on either side open for entry. Eight pillars in trompe l'oeil marble paint support an airy wooden baldachin. The same technique created 14 purple-draped "windows" on three walls and two towering Corinthian pillars on the Ark wall. Biblical verses inscribed on panels above the windows are clues to the philosophy of Mondovi's Jews.

The Heikhal is on the east wall opposite the entrance. Wrought iron railings flank the low platform approaching the exceptional walk-in Ark. A large bronze hanukkia stands next to the Ark on the platform. The Ark doors are carved and gilded wood, centered between two helical columns painted with a climbing grapevine. A seven-branched menorah is carved on the upper part of the doors and its candles bear flames of red paint. The walk-in Ark juts into a rear porch that served as the heder. A direct hit by Allied bombs on the Turin synagogue in World War II destroyed the 13 Torah scrolls sent from Mondovi for safekeeping. One surviving scroll and other artifacts were safely hidden in Dr. Marco Levi's home one day before the Germans arrived.

A wooden charity box stands on a side table in the main sanctuary, sectioned for the poor, the school and Eretz Yisrael. In a corner of the entrance landing, a stone funnel collects rainwater to a stone basin for ritual hand washing. A short corridor leads to a matroneo (women's section) containing three rows of wooden benches. The women viewed the sanctuary proceedings through open windows rather than latticed shutters." [February 2009]

 

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Last Updated on Sunday, 14 June 2009 22:17