ROME (JTA) — Rabbi Pinchas Punturello will begin work in southern Italy and Sicily to reach out to the Bnei Anousim, the descendants of Jews forced to convert to Catholicism centuries ago.
Punturello’s posting is a joint project of Shavei Israel, an Israel-based nonprofit that helps strengthen and recover Jewish identity, and the Union of Italian Jewish Communities. It marks the first time that a rabbi has been appointed to work specifically with the Bnei Anousim of southern Italy and Sicily.
Punturello, 36, a Naples native, served as the rabbi of its Jewish community from 2004 to 2010, and was the small-congregations activities coordinator for the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities, or UCEI, the official umbrella organization of Italian Jewry.
In the role, Punturello will collaborate with Rabbi Scialom Bahbout, the chief rabbi of Naples and southern Italy, who has initiated a number of programs aimed at Jews in the south seeking to recover their identity.
Punturello, who lives in Jerusalem, is expected to spend about half of each month in Italy.