JFS trip to Florence
A recent trip run by Lo Tishkach took ten London students to Florence and the surrounding Tuscan countryside to survey and record Jewish cemeteries in the area for the Lo Tishkach database. The visit, run in partnership with JFS, the largest Jewish school in Europe, included work in both the New and Old Cemeteries of Florence as well as Jewish burial sites in historic Siena and in Monte San Savino.
The four-day trip was an engaging insight into the history of Italian Jewry and gave the students an appreciation for the great work that Lo Tishkach carries out all over Europe. There were opportunities to take in the celebrated landmarks in Florence and Siena and the students spent Shabbat with peers in the local Florentine community – a great opportunity for two cultures to meet and understand life in two disparate Jewish centres.
The New Jewish Cemetery of Florence was the first burial site surveyed on the first day. The cemetery was in remarkably good condition for a small community and had graves from as far back as the early-1880s and was still in use by the Florentine Jewish population.
The second visited was the Siena Jewish Cemetery, just outside the walls of the city. While partially overgrown, and on a very steep slope, the cemetery holds graves from the 17th Century onwards and contained some remarkable tombs of prominent families of the area. Immediately following this, the group departed for the Jewish Cemetery of the small Tuscan town of Monte San Savino. Jews have since departed the town but the cemetery is still intact, albeit vastly overrun with vegetation. Graves date back to the 17th Century and it was interesting for the group to see how Jewish life once existed in the most unassuming of areas.
Finally, the group surveyed the Old Jewish Cemetery of Florence, the primary Jewish burial site preceding the establishment of the New Jewish Cemetery. Set just behind the South Bank of the River Arno, the grave site contained tombs from the late-18th Century until the 1870s, from whence the New Cemetery took over Jewish burial responsibility. The Old Cemetery was probably the most intriguing of them all as there was continuous restoration work being undertaken.
All in all, the Lo Tishkach trip to Florence was a resounding success. The students were able to see Florence and the Italian Jewish community as well as learn the histories of both while Lo Tishkach was able to retrieve vital information for its work recording Jewish cemeteries.
Written by Benji Salmon