A Jewish community of between 30,000 and 50,000 that was forced to convert to Catholicism or depart from Sicily reached its deadline on this date in 1493. Their expulsion, ordered on March 31, 1492 edict by the monarchs of Spain, the ruling power in Sicily, left behind a large number of conversos who were then persecuted by the Inquisition for centuries. Evidence suggests that Jews were living on the island of Sicily as early as the Second Temple period (between 530 BCE and 70 BCE). In 590 Pope Gregory the Great ordered the Church to reimburse the Jews of Palermo for the expropriation of their synagogue, and during the centuries that followed, historical records testify to a Jewish presence in Syracuse, Messina, Palermo and other cities. Under Norman rule (11th century), the Jews had judicial self-rule and were permitted to own property; under Frederick II, they were protected from the Crusades; under Alfonso V (1416–58), they were released from ghettos. Still, anti-Semitic massacres periodically occurred, and Jews were subject to special taxes and persecutions. At least two famous kabbalists lived in Sicily, Abraham Abulafia and Joseph Saragossi. The ruins of the oldest mikveh in Europe has been discovered in Syracuse, and since 2008, a new synagogue community has been growing there.
““It is known that there are many families, and sometimes entire villages, where descendants of Jews succeeded in preserving Jewish traditions after 500 years. We have to help them to recapture the awareness of their roots and to support their Jewish growth.” —Dr. Gadi Papierno, Union of Italian Jewish Communities