In Leghorn no ghetto ever stood. Thanks to Tuscan Grand Duke Ferdinand I dei Medici, who put out the welcome mat for Jews from Spain and Portugal in 1593 by issuing what is known as "The Livornina," a letter patent that guaranteed safe conduct of 25 years for both the goods and the person of anyone of Jewish descent who moved to the new Tuscan "free port" of Leghorn, a vibrant Jewish community existed here for centuries.
Hebrew-language books were printed in Leghorn. The Belforte printing house and bookstore remain as living testimony to the city’s early role in Jewish publishing.
Economically driven migration and intermarriage has made inroads into a population that numbered 5,000 in 1,800 and about 2,000 before the passage of the infamous Racial Laws in 1938. Today just 700 remain.
Yet Leghorn’s Jews reaped the rewards of inter-ethnic harmony during the perilous period of the 1940s. The invading Germans only managed to deport about 120 people. The rest fled or found refuge with area Catholics.
Samuel Sondak, born in N.Y., who came to work at the nearby NATO base in 1957 and retired here, recalls a chance remark of the nurse who cared for his son after the circumcision. She had, it seems, harbored Jews in her cellar when the Nazis came.
Other locals still talk about Don Roberto Angeli, a Leghorn priest who hustled patients out of the Jewish hospital, hid them in local apartments and kept them fed during the German occupation. Caught, he was deported to the Mauthausen concentration camp, but managed to survive the war. Allied bombers leveled the ornate synagogue and a modern replacement was erected in 1962. There the community gathers for twice-weekly prayer services, as well as on Shabbat and holidays. Meanwhile, plans are afoot, led by Belforte heir Guido Guastalla, for a Jewish cultural center in the Livornese birthplace of painter Amedeo Modigliani.