Recreating the glory days of a Sicilian Jewish past

Jun 06, 2018 248

BY: Michael Fraiman -

Michael Occhipinti supposes he could be Jewish, in some distant way. People tell him he looks like it. Others say he looks Arab, Egyptian or Italian, and he smiles every time: “All of the above,” he jokes. All he knows for sure is his family hails from Sicily, Italy, a Mediterranean melting pot of cultures, religions and dialects.

His surname is very similar to the Italian phrase occhi dipinti, meaning “painted eyes,” leading one man he met to curiously hypothesize that his ancestors were Egyptian rabbis. Occhipinti finds all this fascinating. “The reality is the food, the culture, the music reflects the influence of everything in Sicily,” he says. “In the context of 800 AD, it was a pretty enlightened place.”

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