An Italian rabbi has been appointed a new emissary for the “lost Jews” in Sicily and southern Italy. Rabbi Pinchas Punturello, 36, will work on behalf of Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based organization that aims to strengthen ties between Israel and the descendants of Jews around the world. The bnei anusim, as they are known, are descendants of Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity, but clung to their Jewish roots nonetheless.
“The Bnei Anousim in southern Italy need to be helped from a cultural point of view, as well as in a spiritual way, and we are here to guide them in this journey,” said Punterello, who was born in Naples. “After all, to come home after 500 or 600 years is not easy, but it’s wonderful.”
As part of his work, Punterello will organize prayer services and classes on Jewish subjects for the bnei anusim. He will also facilitate conversion and aliyah.
Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, which works with “lost Jewish communities” in places including India, Brazil and Poland, put it this way: “There are a lot more of us out there than we realize.” Read more about the genetic legacy of the bnei anusim here, as well as the attempts to bring these “long lost Jews” back into the fold.