17th Century Synagogue, Destroyed During War, Reopens in Leghorn

With impressive, all-day ceremonies at which the participants included major Jewish and non-Jewish religious and community leaders, representatives of the Government and municipality, and official representatives of Israel, a new, $400,000 synagogue was consecrated today at Leghorn, seat of a great Jewish community whose origin goes back to the late sixteenth century.

The original house of worship, a beautiful Renaissance structure built on the same site, in the 17th century, was damaged beyond repair during World War II. The new edifice includes, in its interior, stones from the old synagogue. Funds for the synagogue were contributed in large part by the Government under the War Damage Act, and sizable aid was received from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the Joint Distribution Committee, the City of Leghorn, and philanthropists throughout the world.

Among the speakers at the ceremonies was the aged Rabbi Alfredo Toaff, father of the present Grand Rabbi of Rome; Professor Elio Toaff, the Grand Rabbi; official representatives of the Catholic Archbishopric; leaders of the local and Italian Jewish communities; the Mayor of Leghorn; diplomats representing the Israeli mission here; and Professor Giulio Racah, rector of the Hebrew University at Jerusalem, who read a personal message to the Leghorn Jewish community from Israel’s President Izhak Ben-Zvi. The Italian Government was officially represented by Senator Giovanni Giraudo.

Most of the speakers recalled the greatness of the Leghorn Jewish community which, under Ferdinand I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, was given, by a degree in 1593, a special charter making Leghorn–known as Livorno–a free port with the right to admit Jews and Marranos then being persecuted in Portugal. Later, the Jews were granted full civic status, including the right to conduct their own courts and levy taxes. The city became one of the foremost centers in the world for Sephardic learning. Under the Mussolini regime, the rights of the Jews were gradually reduced, and the numbers of Jews fell to no more than about 1,000. Many of those were annihilated during the war by the Nazis.

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