The Jewish Community of Milan – A Bit of History…
There is evidence of Jews living in Milan as early as the first centuries, during the Roman period. Some of the stones that assemble the wall of the Ambrosian basilica of Milan were thought to be taken from an ancient Jewish cemetery in the area. Still, Jewish living in Milan, compared to other cities in Italy and Europe, was quite limited throughout the generations. That is also the reason for Milan not having a Jewish “ghetto”, simply since there were no Jews in it.
During the 4th century
the Jewish synagogue in Milan was destroyed due to “arson” supposedly “by the hands of god”, as Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, wrote at the time. A new synagogue was built and destroyed again by the masses during the year of 507.
It was only during the 13th century, when Jewish communities in northern Italy multiplied, when the community of Milan was able to recover. In 1320 Jews were again forced out of the city, but by the end of the 14th century the regained their rights in Milan and were granted protection by the house of Sforza – the famous ruling family of the city. When the pope Pius the 2nd initiated the confiscation of Jews’ property to benefit the crusades during 1459, Francesco Sforza prevented it.
Thirty years later,
in 1489, under the ruling of Ludovico Il Moro, Jews were exiled again from the dukedom territory. Later on they were able to return for business purposes only and not to reside in it. It was only in 1714 that the Jewish settling was once again allowed, in parallel to the annexation of the area to Austria. During the mid-19th century the Jewish community in Milan had merely 500 members.
In 1848 Jews were taking part in the rebellion against the foreign rule. Jews were finally granted full civilian rights in parallel to the unification of Italy in 1859 (the Risorgimento). From this point forward the Jewish community began to grow and develop numerically and financially. The Jewish people in Milan, as in everywhere in the world, became a significant part of the economic, artistic and politic life in both Milan and in Italy in general. Some examples include Luigi Luzzatti that at the young age of 24 established the Milanese bank Banca Popolare di Milano; The journalist and translator Emilio Treves; and Margherita Sarfatti, the famous lover and informal political representative of Mussolini.
the Jewish community had about 2000 members. During that year a new large synagogue was established in Milan.
In 1931 the community grew to 6500 members. After the Nazis rose to power many Jewish refugees from all over Europe joined the Milanese community, and before the Second World War started the community in Milan had about 12,000 members. 800 of them were sent to concentration and extermination camps directly from platform 21 in Milan’s central train station, along with other Jews from northern Italy. At the fall of 1943 the Nazis lead an extensive chase after Jews in the Lombardia area, with the cooperation of the Fascists in nearby towns and villages. During that time the Nazis destroyed the city’s synagogue as well. It was rebuilt after the war, with the rebuilding process continuing until 1997. To this day, the synagogue is active, and located at Guastalla Street.
By the end of the Second World War almost 5,000 Jews, along with refugees from other communities in northern Italy, were listed in the Milan.
following the independence declaration of Israel, Jewish people from Arabian countries began to flee towards Italy and Milan. At first came Egyptian Jews, in particular following the failure of the operation to capture the Suez Canal in 1956. They were then joined by large groups of Jews from Lebanon, Syria, Morocco and Iraq. Later on Jews from Libya and Iran immigrated to Milan as well.
In 1975 about 10,000 Jews were living in Milan. Many of them were engaged in trading and commerce. Today there are about 5,500 Jews living in the city. In addition to the large synagogue there are about ten other synagogues active in the city: a synagogue of Italian Jews, a synagogue for Iranian Jewish immigrants, a few synagogues of Nusach Sefard as well as a Chabbad house. The city has a few Jewish schools as well: A school for the Jewish Italian community, a Chabbad school and a couple others. Most of the Jews in Milan do not follow the Torah and Mitzvot, and do not all reside in a specific part of the city.
Many traditional Jewish families reside in the area in which the Jewish school and Jewish community offices are located. Some Kosher shops, bakeries and restaurants are located in that area as well.
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