Winnipeg Jewish Review  
Site Search:
Home  |  Archives  |  Contact Us
Features Local Israel Next Generation Arts/Op-Eds Editorial/Letters Links Obituary/In Memoriam

EDITOR'S PICK: THE JEWS OF SAN NICANDRO - A book review by Marty Morantz

by Marty Morantz, December 12, 2012

Mark Twain said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.”

If I were to tell you, that just before World War II, in the midst of Nazi Tyranny; the Holocaust; European anti-Semitism; Mussolini’s Italian fascism; Germany’s occupation of Italy; and the abject poverty throughout Europe touched off by the great depression, that a small group of Roman Catholic Italians, living in a tiny town in the south of Italy, decided to convert to Judaism, you might be inclined to say “No way, that can’t be true!”

In addition, you might be surprised to know, that this little town had no formal Jewish Community, no Rabbi, no synagogue, no Torah scroll, in fact no books or materials relating to Judaism at all.

After reading the book “The Jews of San Nicandro”, published in October of 2010 and written by John Davis, I was amazed.

The book is extremely well documented, and I highly recommend it to you.

The unlikely hero of this “true to life” tale was the villager, Donato Manduzio. 
Manduzio was borne in 1885 into a family of poor peasants from the remote village San Nicandro, a small rural town in the south of Italy.

Manduzio never went to school, and in his early years was illiterate. While serving in the Italian Army, his legs became paralyzed as the result of an illness he contracted during World War I.

While convalescing in military hospitals, he learned how to read and write. Due to his paralysis he could not work, but drew a small veteran’s pension which allowed him and his wife to get by.

After the War he became interested in religion, and decided to read an Italian Christian translation of the Old Testament. Despite being raised as a Roman Catholic, although he recognized Christ as a prophet, he rejected the notion of Christ as the “Messiah” and the son of God. He decided to abandon his Catholic faith.
Although Judaism does not actively solicit conversions, in the 1930’s Manduzio, who was Roman Catholic at birth, convinced some eighty of his Roman Catholic neighbors to follow the Old Testament. This small group of poor families, decided to adopt the Jewish Faith in the 1930’s, at the exact moment in history Jews throughout Europe were being persecuted.

Manduzio became their spiritual leader.

The book recounts, through much lobbying of the established Italian Jewish leadership in Rome, by Manduzio, the San Nicandro community eventually formally converted to Judaism.

The males underwent circumcision, and the women, ritual baths.

Many of the San Nicandro converts took Hebrew names. For instance Donato Manduzio took the Hebrew name “Levi”. One of his fellow community leaders, Pasquale Cerrone, became “Pesach”. Another community leader Constantino Tritto became “Chaim”, and so on.

The Community struggled to get proper information from the Rabbi’s in Rome about how to be observant Jews, but did their best to observe Shabbat, kosher laws, and even held regular services including Pesach, Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah.

1948 was a pivotal year for the lone group, as their spiritual leader Manduzio passed away, around the same time that the State of Israel was established.

After the establishment of Israel, most of the community deeply aspired to make Aliyah. This small group of Roman Catholics who had, with limited support from the outside world, converted to Judaism, had become committed Zionists.

And so it was that in November of 1949, most of the Jews of San Nicandro made Aliyah, and moved from their small town in southern Italy, to the newly formed state of Israel. They eventually settled in the village of Migdal Gad near Ashkelon.

The story of the San Nicandro Jews is an amazing, fascinating, and inspiring tale of the triumph of the human spirit over extreme adversity.

<<Previous Article       Next Article >>
Subscribe to the Winnipeg Jewish Review
  • Jewish Federation of Winnipeg
  • Fillmore Riley
  • Jewish Federation of Winnipeg
  • Winter's Collision Repair
  • Gray Academy
  • Jacqueline Simkin
  • Coughlin Insurance
  • Joyce Rykiss
  • CHW
  • The J Hansen HVAC Group
  • Munroe Pharmacy
  • The Lazareck Family
  • Imperial Soap
  • GTP
  • Piston Ring
  • Nick's Inn
  • Lori Shenkarow
  • Roseman Corp.
  • Tyler Bucklaschuk
  • TD Canada Trust
  • Sobey's
  • Daniel Friedman and Rob Dalgliesh
  • The Lipkin Family
  • Booke and Partners
  • Bruce Shefrin Interior Design
  • Fair Service
  • Daien Denture Clinic
  • Thovaldson Care
  • Laufman Reprographics
  • Amalgamated Drywall Systems Ltd.
  • Maric Homes
  • Artista Homes
  • Tradesman Mechanical
  • Accurate Lawn & Garden
  • Ronald B. Zimmerman
  • Commercial Pool
  • Lanny Silver
  • Fetching Style
  • Rudy Fidel
  • Shindico
  • Dakota Chiropractic Office
  • Myrna Driedger
  • Shirley and Bob Freedman
  • The Chisick Family
  • Carol and Barry McArton
  • The Shinewald Family
  • Dr. Ted and Harriet Lyons
  • Munroe Dental Centre
  • Ixtapa Travel
  • Hill Sokalski Walsh
  • D'arcy and Deacon
  • The Charach Family
  • Esther and Sid Halpern
  • Myers LLP
  • The Lazar Family
  • Dr. Marshall Stitz
  • Cavalier Candies
  • Cdn Visa
  • Kowall Chiropractic Centres
  • Dr. Brent Schacter
  • Doheny Securities
  • Ambassador Mechanical
  • Peerless Garments
  • Pitblado
  • Cindy Lamoureux
  • HUB International
  • Philip Kahanovtich
  • Global Philathropic Canada
  • Sorrento's
  • Taverna Rodos
  • Aziza Family
  • Western Scrap Metals
  • Cascade Financial Group Inc.
  • James Bezan
  • Larry N. Maguire
  • Malaya Marcelino
  • Candice Bergen
  • Safeway
  • John Orlikow
  • Ross Eadie
  • Orthodox Union
  • Saul Simmonds
  • Bridges for Peace
  • Chochy's
  • City Sheet Metal
  • Superlite
  • Stephen Rosenfield
  • Abe and Toni Berenhait
  • The Lofchick Famiy
  • Stringer Rentals
  • John Wishnowski
  • Ingrid Bennet
  • Winnipeg Board of Jewish Education
  • Asper Jewish Community Campus
  • Jewish Federation of Winnipeg
  • Grant Kurian Trucking
  • Shoppers Drug Mart
  • Gulay Plumbing
  • Kristina's
  • West Kildonan Auto
  • The Center for Near East Policy Research Ltd.
  • Sarel Canada
  • Santa Lucia Pizza
  • Center for Near East Policy Research
  • Roofco Winnipeg Roofing
  • Center for Near East Policy Research
  • Nachum Bedein
  • Maric Homes
Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.