Gilded crosses top the onion domes of Florence’s Russian Orthodox church, but that didn’t stop a confused stranger from pointing Izzeddin Elzir in its direction back in 1991 as he combed the city streets for a mosque. Arriving from Hebron and settling in to study fashion, Elzir spent his first day in Florence registering for courses. By day two, he’d started hunting for a house of worship.
Toward the end of his first week, Elzir was redirected toward the synagogue, which closely resembles a mosque—“architecturally, 100 percent,” he says. Only the Hebrew characters on the building’s façade tipped him off that it wasn’t one.