Jewish Monferrato

Moncalvo: the Ghetto and the Synagogue

A visitor coming from Asti or Casale, may be happily surprised by the group of houses on the slopes of a hill. You can see narrow medieval roads in slope, where small shops of every kind are opened, people walking without feeling the effort of the ascent. At the top, the large main public square’s lookout is that of an overhanging balcony on a ground worked and cured with love by generations of honest, tireless and stubborn peasants.

Thick walls, now solid base of more recent buildings, and wide trenches, now become good roads, attesting the essentially military character of the past: vestiges of towers remember a large ancient castle. A tourist may have not enough time to observe all the public square buildings, but to its eye searching for beauty, surely escapes a modest construction, a gray and perusal wall, with dilapidated and falling doors. This building is today close to the Cassa di Risparmio.

It’s an abandoned and forgotten building, and the distracted eye of the tourist doesn’t stop to look at it. It’s nevertheless sufficient to ask the local people, to hear them whispering, with a respect mixed to fear and reluctance, as if they were worried to reveal a dangerous secret, that this building is the “church of the Jews”.

As a matter of fact, over the door, it is still possible to see indistinctly a beautiful inscription that a stone-cutter has tried in a very approximate way to cancel it. The inscription, in Hebrew and Italian, presents a phrase of Isaiah that revealedthe former building nature of a prayer oratory.
The Synagogue was on the public square, but behind it, in two humid and narrow roads, from 1732 to the 1848 the ghetto of Moncalvo could be found.

The years haven’t changed the structure of those unhealthy alleys: falling, narrow, high houses that enclosed for a long time people so extraordinary and lively, host now the Southern immigrates, perhaps still now neglected and ghettoized, even if the fencings have been pulled down.

The Jewish presence in Moncalvo lives today only as a far memory, after that the Synagogue has been closed and its rich furnishings have found a better location in Israel in 1950 and after a slow, yet almost total, abandonment of the settling by the Jews.
Only the walls, with all their eloquent silence, and the epitaphs on the cemetery’s tombstones remain, still testifying and declaiming what the life of one of the richest and most influential communities in the city’s life was, among the most important ones existed in Piedmont during the past centuries.