The unique story of the Jews of San Nicandro, Italy, dates back to the end of the First World War, when a badly wounded soldier named Donato Manduzio returned home from the front.
An illiterate peasant, Manduzio found himself confined to his bed, so he decided to learn how to read.
Advancing quickly in his studies, he devoured novels and other works of literature, before turning his attention to the Bible.
It was there that he discovered Judaism, although at the time he thought that no Jews were left in the world.
He began practicing the Jewish faith, and more and more of his neighbors joined him in his spiritual quest. Eventually, the community numbered 80 people.
Towards the end of the Second World War, after Allied forces had invaded Italy, members of the Jewish Brigade passed through the village, with Stars of David emblazoned on their jeeps.
For Donato and his followers, it was their first encounter with real, live Jews. They approached the soldiers, warmly embraced them, and pleaded with them to take the community members to the Promised Land.
Subsequently, in 1946, most of Donato’s community succeeded in converting to Judaism, and the vast majority of them made aliyah in 1949.
Today, there are still a few dozen members of the community in San Nicandro who are living a Jewish life and practicing Judaism even though they did not undergo a formal conversion. Once a month, a rabbi visits the group, teaching them Judaism and providing them with spiritual guidance.
Shavei Israel also maintains contact with the community, and has sent them various Jewish religious objects and educational materials.