Video courtesy of Shavei Israel
This is such a wide-scale phenomenon that the Shavei Israel organization, which deals with those seeking to explore their Jewish roots, held a special conference in Israel attended by people from all over Italy – mostly the south of the country.
Some 400 years after the Spanish Inquisition, which they say forced their forefathers to convert – many of them continued to observe Jewish customs and tradition secretly, and even succeeded in passing them on from generation to generation. "Our job is to embrace them," says Shavei Israel Chairman Rabbi Michael Freund.
Jonatan Curci of Perugia in Italy brought his entire family to the seminar, including his baby daughter, "so that they understand what the Land of Israel is and the origin of our roots," he says.
Nicola Giunta, a resident of Reggio Calabria, participated in a ceremony in which an ancient Torah scroll taken from the synagogue in Calabria 500 years ago was returned. The event, he says, made him realize that "we are not drawn just to culture, but our roots push us in that direction."
So what brings people in the middle of their lives to take this journey with an end that is nowhere to be seen? Liron Peled, an Israeli tour guide who "discovered" the Anusim during her travels, asked herself the same question.
"I feel it's just a place looking for its root," she says. "Some of them had clues about it since they were children, and some began being drawn by Judaism only when they started asking themselves questions like who am I, what am, I and where do I come from. They realized they must deepen this connection."
Peled tells of a family which found an ancient page of the Shema Yisrael prayer in its house's basement, and Agazio Fraietta of Calabria simply says," It's like 'Go from your country' (God's command to Abraham). I am returning to myself. It's important for me to be who I am."