“A very extraordinary Shabbat indeed, which will certainly be remembered not only in the history of the Jewish Community in Biella, but also that of Italian Judaism”. Thus responds Dario Desegni, president of the Jewish Cultural Heritage Foundation in Italy, to the words of Rabbi Elia Richetti who, commenting at the end of the ceremony for the return of the oldest kosher sefer in the world to his synagogue, said “This was a truly extraordinary Shabbat; I am sorry for those who were unable to attend.”
Excitement has been running high in Biella since last Friday, when for the first time in thirty years the small synagogue of vicolo del Bellone saw the arrival of a minyan comprising the families of Rav Richetti, representative of the community, Rav Alberto Somekh, the sofer Amedeo Spagnoletto, who restored the old sefer, and representatives of almost all the families of Biella, who had gathered for the occasion. The ancient synagogue, on which restoration works were completed in 2012, today opened its small door to a large crowd of people eager to share with the community the joyful return of its sefer, and was unable to accommodate everyone. The sefer was carried by a visibly moved Biella-born Alberto Calò, who had come specially from Israel for the occasion. Alberto is the grandson of Gustavo Calò, the last Rabbi of the community, who was commemorated by Rabbi Somekh together with Rav Weiss Levi, a rabbi of Biella who recently passed away.
Many supported the Jews of Biella and Rossella Bottini Treves (president of the community of Biella and Vercelli, without whom neither the restoration of the synagogue nor the recovery of the sefer would have been possible) in the initative, from the vice-presidents of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Giulio Disegni and Roberto Jarach, to UCEI councillor Claudia De Benedetti, while a coach from Turin brought chief rabbi Rav Ariel Di Porto with a large group of community representatives. Another guest of the community was Maurizio Molinari, director of La Stampa, attending together with representatives from RAI and the local newspapers and television stations, as well as a public German broadcasting crew.
After the excitement of the Haknasat Sefer Torah the day’s events continued at Palazzo Gromo Losa, loaned for the occasion by the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Biella, long-time supporters of the community. Here the welcoming speeches by President Bottini Treves and Dario Disegni were followed by another gesture of great symbolic value, when the mayor of the city, Marco Cavicchioli, presented Rabbi Richetti with another exceptionally value document: an ancient Meghillat Esther found in the Civic Library, which now returns to the Community. This, in fact, is not the only valuable document in Biella. Speaking at Palazzo Gromo Losa, the director of the State Archives of Biella, Mrs. Graziana Bolengo, after referring the greetings of the Ministry of Culture, expressed her hopes for the launching of a programme geared to the study and recovery of all the material housed in the city, which includes a number of other highly important documents. This, however, is not the only project born of this extraordinary event. Besides encouraging the Biella Community to organise another such joyful get-together, in fact, it also inspired the idea of organizing a conference in Biella dedicated to the study of the ancient Sifrei Torah, which the president of the Jewish community of Vercelli and the president of the Jewish Cultural Heritage Foundation are currently working on. Talking about the interest shown in the subject, Sofer Amedeo Spagnoletto, shortly before the closing speech by UCEI vice president Disegni, explained the problems and interest involved in the recently completed restoration works.
Ada Treves twitter @atrevesmoked
(6 marzo 2016)