The Jews of San Nicandro

John A. Davis
  • Review
By – August 29, 2011
In the late 1920’s, Dona­to Man­duzio had a dream that not only changed his life for­ev­er but also changed the lives of many indi­vid­u­als in the sleepy, remote south­ern Ital­ian vil­lage of San Nican­dro. The young man, who grew up illit­er­ate, fell ill from an unspec­i­fied dis­ease while serv­ing in the army in World War I. Dur­ing his recov­ery, he learned to read and write, and he devoured the adven­ture tales of the Cru­sades pop­u­lar at the time, and Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo became one of his favorites. His read­ing turned to the sacred texts of Judaism and Chris­tian­i­ty, and at once he grew deeply con­vinced that the teach­ings of Judaism were supe­ri­or to those of oth­er reli­gions. Man­duzio records his con­ver­sion to Judaism in his Jour­nal, where he reveals the dream in which God speaks to him and instructs him to declare the Laws of the One God. Call­ing him­self The Prophet of This Cen­tu­ry,” Man­duzio dis­clos­es that he has received not just a per­son­al rev­e­la­tion but that God has bestowed on him per­son­al­ly, through dreams and visions, the mis­sion of con­vert­ing oth­ers to Judaism. By 1938, his teach­ing and preach­ing had attract­ed a group of about 50 peo­ple, includ­ing 30 chil­dren.

As John A. Davis, who is Emil­iana Pas­ca Noe­ther Pro­fes­sor of Mod­ern Ital­ian His­to­ry at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Con­necti­cut, points out in this fast-paced chron­i­cle of a lit­tle-known event, Manduzio’s group devel­oped in a vil­lage that had no syn­a­gogue and no rab­bi and where they had no con­tact with oth­er Jews. The group sur­vived the close scruti­ny of Mus­soli­ni and the Catholic Church dur­ing World War II, and, in 1946, the new­ly restored rab­bini­cal author­i­ties in Rome approved the offi­cial con­ver­sion of the com­mu­ni­ty. Although many mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty moved to the new­ly found­ed state of Israel, a small num­ber remained in San Nican­dro. Davis’s cap­ti­vat­ing sto­ry­telling cap­tures the inti­mate details of this com­pelling slice of for­got­ten history.
Hen­ry L. Car­ri­g­an, Jr. writes about books for Pub­lish­ers Week­ly, Library Jour­nal, Book­Page, and Fore­Word. He has writ­ten for numer­ous news­pa­pers includ­ing the Atlanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion, The Char­lotte Observ­er, The Cleve­land Plain Deal­er, The Orlan­do Sen­tinel, The Chris­t­ian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor, and The Wash­ing­ton Post Book World.

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