The Jewish Cemetery
The cemetery, Beth ha-hayim or House of Life, was opened in Via Salvadori in 1836 by will of the council and community administration as the old Burial Ground in via Trucco prevented the urban expansion towards the river Bormida, as it wasn’t able to guarantee “separate burial sites from the Christian ones” to the local community that counted around 400 people, and was in considerable increase. The area of 3.664 square meters is enclosed by a high, perimeter stone wall, completed with capping beams that serve as a protective function. The cemetery contains 830 single grave burials, (of which three with two deceased, and other two with deceased that were cremated), of which around 300 are currently identifiable, belonging to three generations and entire local families from Acqui of Mosaic faith; 32 are graves of Eastern Jews that passed away at the end of the nineteenth century in Sanremo and in Menton for tuberculosis and are buried in Acqui, being the closest cemetery; 7 are the rabbis buried here. The last burial dates back to 2005. From the gate you can enter the two sections: on the right are the nineteenth century burials, distributed in nine alignments in chronological order of death, and on the left six twentieth century alignments. The burial ground is a stone archive that represents centuries of local community history, considered an open-air museum with socio-pedagogical functions of Jewish faith and culture. The multi-valence of the monument (local and grand history and Jewish culture) is evident in the polysemy -architecture, art and symbolism, linguistic code and dating system contained in the stones.
The chronological order of the graves allows to rapidly identify the buried, and visually depicts the time positioning in the community history, stating the equal role of each one. The vertical facies of the classical, neo-Gothic and baroque style tombstones (matzevot), chosen according to funeral regulations, is attributed to the idea of the orthopraxis as a rule of life stretched to infinity, to perfection, and is a symbol of the cosmic axis that unites the buried underground, the alive on the earth and the sky. The epigraphs in Hebrew-Aramaic, bilingual or in twentieth century Italian recall in the onomastics the foundation of Jewish history in which the name (preponderant the biblical matrix) of each one is the link of the multi-millenial chain of the people elected on earth, and indicate the lifetime of the deceased, emphasising the family and his position in society, specifying the qualities as a positive reference model, concluding with condolences and the recurring auspice of peace (shalom) or of an eternal memory through the well-auguring “may your name be bonded in the memory of the living."
The nineteenth century burial stones indicate the Jewish date (birth and death or more often only of death) and specify day, month, year according to the lunar-solar calendar with incipit at 3760 a.e.v. (in the tradition the 1st tisrì of that year) and declare the different computation of Jewish time compared to the Western European world. Finally, the adorned stones contain strong specific symbolisms of grief and biblical culture, both phyto-morphic elements (pomegranate, grain, lilies, roses, palm, oak, willow); zoomorphic (lion, snake, owl, the latter symbol of intelligence, present as a bas-relief on the tomb of a rabbi) and of res – the star of David, the Book, the oil lamp which signifies eternal life, the blessing of the hands of the Levites, the Holy Ark in the palm grove, the closed amphora that doesn’t pour or receive water, the tallit that covers it, the totipotent cell, the Law Tables. The winged hourglass, the overturned torches, the poppies and the owl have also been taken from classical funerary traditions.
The history is recalled by the epitaphs of local Jews who were co-protagonists between the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century of the modernization of the city as public administrators and entrepreneurs; Samuel Levi instituted and financed the local Jewish school for the poor, called Pio Institute Levi; the rabbi Azaria Bonajut Ottolenghi, that planted the tree of freedom in the Ghetto square in 1799 caused the first pogrom and escaped from danger, instituted the Yeshivà to analyse biblical studies and the Talmud, whereas Donato, Israel and Jona Ottolenghi, followers of Mazzini, financed the campaign of the Italian independence. Giuseppe Ottolenghi was exiled to London as a Patriot, and strived hard for the repatriation of Foscolo’s ashes in 1837. For the inauguration, the Rabbis Bellom and Lazzaro Ottolenghi designed and requested the mural epigraph engravings inside the synagogue that would sadly be destroyed in 1971; the rabbi Adolfo Ancona, a passionate cabinetmaker, constructed wood furnishings. Abram Levi by will of his Testament in 1909 donated the family building in piazza Levi to the municipality, hoping that it would become their seat (as it is today), subsequently as a tribute the piazza was entitled to him. Ezechia Ottolenghi, senior manager of the Antiche Terme establishment at the end of the nineteenth century and vice-mayor to Saracco (then Minister in Rome), attended to the infrastructural modernization and city planning. Rafael Ottolenghi (1860 -1917) was vice Console in New York and in Cairo, but he was also a philosopher, journalist, a world scholar of ancient and Semitic speaking languages, a Zionist and a lover of Islam. His great-uncle Israel was called to the Napoleonic Sanhedrin in Paris in 1807 as a representative of the Monferrato communities; the banker Giuseppe Salvador, Rafael’s great-great grandfather seven years previously was kidnapped by Napoleon, when he passed through Acqui before the clash with Austro-Russians in Marengo, released prior to ransom; the epitaph reminds that "In 1800 he was hostage of the forces of the revolution and hard-fought victory". Rafael's father risked dying in the attack at the Ghetto in April 1848. Among the buried, many traders and craftsmen who increased the city's economy, booksellers like Salvador Dina, Elio Levi, a man of culture, military men that in several ranks and roles (even as volunteers in the wars of independence and as partisans) contributed personally to the Italian cause. There were several family groups tragically affected by the Shoah. To safeguard the cemetery and the Jewish monuments that have survived in the city, the project of guided tours was set up in 2011 on behalf of the cultural voluntary association, in additon to the scientific studies published in 2009. With the offers received also from subsidised projects, the entire site was "saved" from collapsing and renovated to become a little museum of sacred objects, like the nineteenth century funeral hearse, the stretcher for inumations, the well and the fireplace, the entrance door and the refurbished fixtures, the morgue, and also indicators of the ancient ghetto that have been created and achieved, the temple, the cemetery, the memorial of the Jewish deported, the monument of the Righteous in the wood, granted by the Municipality of Acqui Terme in the adjacent garden.
In 2013, the grand Star of David memorial was set in the wall in the axis at the entrance gate, that contains the names of the 28 Acquesi inhabitants, born, residents, evacuated, refugees, captured, victims of the Shoah. Clotilde Ottolenghi is buried in the neo-Gothic chapel, mother of the Count Arturo of Monterosso, a grand art lover and benefactor.
From 2015, the garden adjacent to the cemetery has become the Wood of the Righteous; two stones from the Langa area and a brass plate remind everyone that “the Righteous protected, hid and saved women, children and Jewish men from deportation between 1943 to 1945. Just like the stones that are extracted from the quarry, that do not require man's intervention, two persimmon trees that bear fruit when no other plant does, are the symbols chosen to remember the Righteous. From 2018 -11 stumbling stones, brass plates affixed to cobblestones, bearing the names and dates of birth, deportation, places and dates of death of the victims of Nazi Germany, remember the Jews deported from their homes.
Since 2001 Remembrance Day has been commemorated in the cemetery and at the historical sites of the ghetto and Temple; the procession stops at the Wood of the Righteous, at the Stumbling Stones, at the places where the partisans were executed. The Bishop of Acqui and a representative of the Rabbi of Genoa have always recited the prayers for the deportees in the cemetery and at the Temple. Students from the
schools in Acqui recall in memorial the identies of the 33 local Jews deported (28) and non-Jews (5). Songs and music accompany the civil commemoration.
The initiative is promoted by: ACI, MEIC, ASSOCIATION FOR PEACE AND NON-VIOLENCE, ANPI, CENTRO STUDI GALLIANO, COMMISSIONE DIOCESANA PER IL DIALOGO TRA RELIGIONI. With the collaboration of: Liceo Parodi and I.S. Levi - Montalcini, I.C. Saracco-Bella, I.C. Monteverde- San Defendente, EQUAZIONE, ARCHICULTURA, ELISABETH DE ROTHSCHILD FOUNDATION of Rivalta Bormida, the ASSOCIATION MEMORIA VIVA of CANELLI. With the patronage of the Municipality of ACQUI TERME, ISRAL DAY OF JEWISH CULTURE.
The day is organized with the support of a cultural volunteer and under the patronages of the following institutions: Municipality of Acqui Terme; UCEI (Union of Italian Jewish Communities)
With the collaboration of: The Association of AMICI MUSEI ACQUESI, the Rothschild Foundation of Rivalta Bormida, the Centro Studi Galliano, the Archicultura Association and the schools from Acqui Terme.