Artisan Giorgio Filicamo with the writer’s wife, Lenore Hahn (left) and Sonia Dorfman, a customer from Hong Kong. Above the door, the Shema in Hebrew
Photo: Herb Hahn
Located between the towns of Amalfi and Salerno, above the Amalfi Coast of Southern Italy is the town of Ravello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Ravello there is a unique treasure and the fascinating artisan who is its guardian. It is the Cameo and Coral Factory, Museum and Retail Store “CAMO”. The guardian owner, and cameo craftsman is Giorgio Filocamo, an Italian Jew.
CAMO is easy to find and easy to miss. It is in the center of Ravello, next to the Duomo, and close to a row of retail shops selling sundry touristy items.
Giorgio apprenticed with his grandfather and developed his skill starting at the age of 11. He continues the family tradition to this day.
He personally hand-carves all the coral, which comes in various colors, and all the cameos from conch shells found in the area of Ravello. Cameo is cut from the pink interior of the conch. Giorgio’s customers have included Hilary Clinton, actors
Pierce Brosnan, Nicholas Cage and Susan Sarandon, former United States President Gerald Ford and Princess Caroline of Monaco.
What caught my eye in CAMO was the Shema, in Hebrew, over the entrance to Giorgio’s museum located behind the store. I pointed to it and Giorgio gave me a ‘yes’ nod … he is Jewish. I asked him if there was a synagogue in Ravello.
No. There just are not enough men for a minyan. The nearest synagogue is in Naples, which is not around the corner.
The history of the Jews in Naples dates back at least 2,000 years. Jews were first brought as slaves to Rome after the Romans conquered Jerusalem. Over the centuries, the Jews thrived, were expelled and were permitted to return to Naples time and again. Naples’ Jewish community in the 1920s was about 1,000. Between 1942 and 1943, 50 Jews were saved from German deportation by being hidden by villagers in nearby Caserta. After World War II, the Jewish community of Naples was between 600 and 700.
The number today has dwindled to around 200. Many have been lost to intermarriage. And that is the story of Giorgio Filocamo. His wife is not Jewish but he is a proud Jew … witness the Shema prominently displayed in his store. By the way, he wished me a Shabbat shalom.
Giorgio is known all across the globe. Exhibitions of his work have been shown in Monte Carlo, Canada, Assisi, Caserta and the Italian Riviera, among many other places.
Sadly, Giorgio told me that the tradition of his family's artistry ends with him. There are no heirs to carry on.