Freshly baked challah has been carefully wrapped in individual paper packages and arranged in a wicker basket by the entrance into the Jewish Community of Florence. While the copper dome of the Synagogue stands out on the city’s skyline, the community remains relatively little known locally and yet it offers a lifelong commitment to Jewish heritage.
Menorahs greet members and visitors in the cosy reception area where noticeboards provide news about the community’s services, from young groups to Talmud Torah learning. Copies of bimonthly magazine Toscana Ebraica top a table and sporting trophies won by community members line a shelf by the entrance into Rabbi Gadi Piperno’s well-appointed office.
Here in via Farini, 15 or so preschool children learn in light-filled classrooms with the Hebrew alphabet posted above the windows. It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic place to go to school when you observe the toys and slides beside the 19th-century Moorish-style temple. There’s the sukkah, a temporary hut for eating during the week of Sukkot (last year, the structure stayed up longer due to the pandemic), and even an organic vegetable garden for kids to try gardening, while a reminder of the circle of life is omnipresent as the community’s 42-bed nursing home lies through a gate beyond the playground. As with all things living, there’s no such thing as a status quo: in recent months, a number of families from Canada, the United States and Israel have joined the community, which comprises just under 1,000 members, bringing growth, renewed vigour and an international feel.
“We’re the only school that walks around the city to visit theatres, such as nearby Teatro Verdi and museums, like Palazzo Strozzi, Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi,” explains teacher Sabina Sadun as the children collect autumn leaves in the walled garden and generously share them with us. “The Birth of Venus inspired a longer study into flowers and the sea based on slow observation.”
Over on the other side of the Synagogue, older children kick a ball around a small football pitch, a short distance from the recently added miqveh, a bathing house for ritual purification. Downstairs in a large room used for special occasions, film projections and everyday life, the children are munching lasagne made in the on-site kitchen.
Upstairs, we gaze at the collections of books and documents making up the community’s extensive library, with sections dedicated to Judaism in Tuscany and wider Italy, before heading up several flights of steps into the archive. The very history of the Jewish Community of Florence is contained in these light blue, metal-trimmed files that stand in two apartment rooms from floor to ceiling. The Synagogue’s construction, financial ledgers, births and deaths: every single detail is stated. That’s not all: books that were damaged during the 1966 flood have been restored in Rome and are slowly returning to Florence, in need of cataloguing and storage.
“Our aim is to expand the scope of our library and archive, hosting people and attracting scholars,” comments Enrico Fink, president of the Jewish Community of Florence. “We want to encourage people to come and study Jewish culture with us.”
Upcoming events at the Jewish Community of Florence and Siena
“Dialogues” is the title of the European Day of Jewish Culture, which will be celebrated in Tuscany with an introductory concert aired from Siena’s Teatro dei Rinnovati with a live audience on October 9 at 9.15am. Click here for more details.
On October 10, a full day of events will take place at the Jewish Community in Florence (via Farini 4), with talks, food, book stands and exhibitions from 11am to 7pm. A Stolperstein will be laid in memory of Rabbi Nathan Cassuto in the morning. The program will be posted on www.firenzebraica.it.