Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Visiting the Town of Soncino

Rabbi Sonsino
This year marks the 560th year of the arrival of a German-Jewish family to Soncino, a little town in northern Italy, and their success in establishing a world-famous printing business in medieval Jewish life.

In 1454, Franceszo Sforza, the then duke of Milan, whose jurisdiction extended to include Soncino, authorized Symon Ebreus (Simeon, the Hebrew) to settle in Soncino, along with his family and friends, and practice “artem feneratoriam” (namely, to give money in interest). However, when town officials set up a public loan office and made private banking almost impossible, Israel Nathan, the son of Simeon and a wealthy physician, along with his sons, Joshua and Moses, decided to open the printing press that called itself after the name of the town. Soon, they began to publish many Jewish books, and became so famous that of them it was written, “From Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of the Lord from Soncino” (Based on Isa. 2: 3).

In March of 1961, I visited the town of Soncino. It was still a small rural town, with a large castle called Rocca Sforzesca. The town people were not accustomed to foreigners. I remember seeing a number of women doing the laundry in a small river. When they noticed my travelling companion and me, they suddenly stopped their work and set their puzzled eyes on us, asking each other, “Who are these people?” Once they found who we were, and especially that I was a descendant of the Jewish family that printed books in their town, they became quite friendly. I then realized that I was the only Sonsino in Soncino! We then met the local priest, Monsignor Pietro de Micheli, who graciously gave me a copy of his book, Soncino; Memorie e Notizie (1956).

We stayed only one night in town. The next morning, we hired a guide who took us around. We visited the famous castle of Soncino. Our guide also took us to two interesting streets. One of them was called, “Via della Stampa” (“The Street of the Printing House”) and the other “Via degli Stampatori” (The Street of the printers), a clear indication of the location where the family lived. The town is very proud of the fact that its name is now famous throughout the world.

And so am I.

Rifat Sonsino, Ph.D.
March, 2014

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