News & Events

Buon Hanukkah!

Date 12.22.2016

The first Jews began arriving in Rome as far back as 160 BC, creating one of the oldest Jewish communities in Western Europe, and with over thirty-thousand Jews calling Italy home, it isn’t surprising that Hanukkah, the festival of lights, is celebrated just as passionately as Christmas. Hanukkah 2016 begins in the evening on Saturday, December 24 and ends Sunday, January 1.

On Rome’s via Sacra, near the Coliseum stands the Arch of Titus, built in AD81, shows  a sculpture of a procession following the raid on the Temple of Solomon and, above the heads of the triumphant Romans, a menorah is held aloft. Today, a twenty-foot menorah is erected in Piazza Barberini and this becomes the central focus for Rome’s  lighting ceremony.  In Milan the large public menorah is traditionally set in Piazza San Carlo with the hope that its light will reach the hearts of the people.

While in Venice, following the lighting of the menorah, the Cannaregio neighborhood is brought to life with music and dancing. Once the home of the world’s oldest Jewish ghetto, the five synagogues remain intact and are still used for worship by the local community. Florence’s past is also steeped in Jewish history with the Jewish museum on Via dei Giudei (street of the Jews) where the city’s ghetto once stood. Nearby is Tempio Maggiore, built between 1874 and 1882, and is the  Synagogue of Florence where the city’s Jewish community gather to celebrate and light the Menorah before the feasting begins.

Like Jews around the world, Italian Jews mark Hanukkah with a fried feast, but with their own spin. Holiday tables are covered with dishes like fried chicken, mashed potato pancakes, olive oil fried eggplant and honey-soaked dough fritters.

Italian Jewish cuisine traditionally varies greatly by region and even community. However, some Hanukkah foods, like Pollo Fritto per Chanuka, or simple fried chicken seems to have almost universal appeal. While Italians don’t do latkes in the Ashkenazi sense, that doesn’t mean they don’t have potato pancakes. Unlike latkes, Fritelle di Patate, are formed from seasoned mashed potatoes, coated in breadcrumbs, and — of course — fried.

Roman Jews in particular popularized frying vegetables in the region. Rome’s historic Jewish ghetto is famous for it’s Carciofi alla Giudia, or Jewish Style Artichokes, though equally, if not more traditional is Melanzane alla Giudia, or the Jewish Style Eggplant in this menu. Italian Jews were responsible for introducing eggplant, among other present day staples of Italian cuisine, to the national diet.

Italian Hanukkah meals are finished off with Precipizi, sweet fried dough fritters.

Chag Sameach!