Florence, Italy, purports to be one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe, dating back to at least 1159, when Benjamin of Tudela wrote of his visit to Florence, capital of the Tuscany region. The Jewish community was officially formed in 1437, nine years after the community lent funds to Pope Martin V in return for his protection. The formation of the Jewish community coincided with the rise of the Medici family, who, as patrons of the arts and humanities, built Florence as a center of Renaissance culture and art in Italy. When the Medicis fell from power in the 1490s, the Jews were expelled. Since the Jewish community had loaned significant funds to the Republic of Florence, the expulsion was successfully delayed until the Medicis returned to power in 1512.

In 1537, the Medicis permitted expelled Jews from Spain and Portugal, to settle in Florence, which caused the Florence Jewish community to grow. Once the Medicis consolidated their power, they did enact laws requiring a special dress code for Jews and creating the Jewish ghetto of Florence in 1571. Although confined to the ghetto, the Jews created communal institutions and were granted autonomy within the ghetto. Due to the flow of Iberian Jews, tensions rose within the ghetto as the Spanish and Portuguese Jews desired synagogues and schools to conduct services in their own rite, and not the Italian custom.

In 1799, when Napoleon occupied Florence, the Jews were emancipated. In 1848, the Jews left the ghetto and were granted civil rights. In 1861, the Jews of Florence were granted full citizenship. They built the Great Synagogue in 1882 and the Rabbinical College of Padua, 120 miles away, was relocated to Florence.

Although 3,000 Jews lived happily in Florence in 1931, their experience deteriorated with the Nazi occupation of Italy in September 1943. On the 6th of Cheshvan, Dr. Rabbi Nathan Cassuto, the Jewish communal leader of Florence, was included in the initial deportations to Auschwitz. Only 13 out of the 243 Jews deported, returned alive.

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