In honor of the AAC representatives at an interfaith and international academic conference in Italy
Two senior members from the Land of Israel Studies Department at AAC – Prof. Yitzhak Reiter and Dr. Rafi Lewis – were honored as keynote speakers at an interfaith academic conference on the “Gateway to the Mediterranean” held in Tuscany, Italy, on September 9-10, 2021.
The conference was organized by the Department of Architecture at the University of Florence in collaboration with the Catholic Bishops of Southern Tuscany. It was attended by senior members of the Catholic Church led by Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, head of the Catholic Church of Italy, Bishop Don Marco Menri, and Dario Nardella, mayor of Florence, Prof. Cecilia Lusky and other lecturers from the University of Florence. Israeli participants included representatives of AAC, the Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See, Oren David, and the archaeologist Dr. Dan Bahat, a lecturer at the University of Toronto and University of Lugano.
The conference’s organizing committee chose AAC representatives from the Department of Land of Israel Studies as keynote speakers. Due to this impressive achievement, the city of Ashkelon was chosen as the main theme during the conference opening session, which presented the southern gateway to the Mediterranean, its shores and the Holy Land. This historic gateway serves as a meeting point and connects religions, cultures, and peoples.
Dr. Rafi Lewis’ opening lecture at the conference examined Ashkelon during the Crusader periods, emphasizing the connection of Ashkelon as the southern gateway to the Land of Israel. Prof. Yitzhak Reiter’s lecture dealt with holy places and pilgrimage as meeting points between cultures, emphasizing historical holy places in Ashkelon.
The fortress and museum of the Rossini family in Pitigliano, southern Tuscany, was chosen as the conference venue. The site has a history of Jewish-Christian coexistence. The Rossini family, from which 5 Italian popes emerged, invited Jews in the 15th century to settle in Pitigliano after being expelled from Rome and other areas by the Medici family.
During the First World War, 600 Jews out of 3,000 citizens lived in Pitigliano in their own neighborhood with a magnificent synagogue as well as community and economic institutions. During World War II, the Christians in the city hid the Jews from the Nazi regime. The last remaining Jewish woman in the city, Helena Sereni (91 years old), also attended the conference and led a tour of the conference participants in the city’s synagogue. There, a moving ceremony was held which included a reading of a chapter from the book of Isaiah by the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, Oren David, and the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa.