Precious gifts. A glimpse into the Heritage of the Jewish Community in Livorno

dr. Anita Paolicchi Ph.D., Post Doc, Art History, Dip. Civiltà e Forme del Sapere – University of Pisa

The volume Preziose dediche. Arte cerimoniale ebraica a Livorno, edited by Dora Liscia Bemporad Media Print, Livorno 2018, shows a selection of objects belonging to the heritage of the Livorno Jewish community, divided into three categories: ornaments for the Sefer Torah, objects of non-ceremonial use, and gifts. The transcription and translation of the inscriptions on these objects, accompanied by the careful reading of the goldsmiths’ marks impressed on some of them, reveal a universe of individual micro-stories that, following careful archival research, allow us to catch a glimpse of the everyday life of the Jewish reality in Livorno. Thus, alongside prominent personalities of the Community, remembered for their rich gifts, the memory of “old Aaron Coen Salomon”, an Algerian shopkeeper who, in the mid 19th century, lived on the second floor of a house in Piazza Leopolda (Livorno), with his wife and two children, who donated – in his memory – an atarà to the synagogue, acquires its own historical dignity.

The oldest object preserved today in Livorno’s Jewish Museum is an atarà dated 1661-1662, whose donors – Avraham Da Costa and Avraham Franco – are named in its inscription. On the other hand, the name of Yacov Vega Alvares, one of the thirty rulers added to the Community’s government in 1693, is linked to a pair of ez haìm (sticks around which the parchment scroll of the Sefer Tàr) donated by his widow in memory of her father-in-law, a Portuguese Marrano who had come to Livorno via Amsterdam. “Precious dedications”, indeed, that allow us to reconstruct the kaleidoscopic variety of stories and identities that found in Livorno a common safe harbour.

The catalogue is preceded by an essay by Dora Liscia Bemporad titled “Il Tempio di Livorno e i suoi arredi cerimoniali. L’eredità di un grande passato” [“The Temple of Livorno and its ceremonial furnishings. The legacy of a great past”], in which the history of Livorno’s Jewish community is recapitulated in order to contextualise the origin of its extremely heterogeneous heritage, and is followed by a bibliographic selection and a glossary.

Atarà (1661-1662), donors – Avraham Da Costa and Avraham Franco. Jewish Museum of Livorno