I am looking up and descendants of my grandparents Carlos Santos Aiello and Mary (or Maria) Bonamesa (Bounamesa?). My father was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1912, and he refered to himself as "Louis," notwithstanding the fact that his name registered on his birth and baptisimal certificates were different.
Since he once told me our surname was actually pronounced "A-ye-yo" I suspected that "Aiello" was originally Spanish. I had also heard that all the Italian and Sicilian Aiellos were descended from four brothers who landed in Calabria many years ago.
After some research and inquiries, I received the following rather surprising note from Rabbi Barbara Aiello in Calabria. Rabbi Barbara Aiello is the first woman and first Reform rabbi in Italy. She is a founder of the Institute for the Study of the Jews of Calabria and Sicily (www.jewishroots.it) and rabbinic advisor for Bradenton’s Chavurah Ner Tamid.
Dear Walter, So good to hear from you... You already know much about our ancestry.. yes, Aiello was originally pronounced "A ee yo" and comes from the Spanish Ei yalah... which comes for El Al ya... common Sephardic Jewish surnames that evoke the name of God.Yes, we did come to Italy as a result of the persecution and expulsion of the Jews from Spain... actually from what I am able to discover, our "antenati" left Spain as Jews who refused forced conversion, went to Gibraltar, then to Morocco, then to Sicily and finally to Calabria, which, as the story goes, the four brothers journeyed together.An amazing story.
Aiello is one of the most common and one of the oldest of Sicilian or Calabrian Jewish surnames and every Aiello, whether Catholic, secular or Jewish has Jewish roots.. we are all part of "anusim," which is Hebrew for "the forced ones" and means that either we were forced into conversion or forced to practice our Jewish religion in secret.I have written much about this but almost all of it is in Italian... maybe now it is time to put the English translation on my website ... www.rabbibarbara.com
Right now I am in the process of opening a cultural institute for the recovery of the lost roots of Calabrian Jews.We are based here in Nicastro (Lamezia Terme) in the deep south of Italy where we have found remnants of the old synagogue and the mikveh (ritual bath).We are called the IJCCC ... Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria.
My parents spoke Ladino to each other when they wanted to keep information from the kids... so my vocabulary consists mostly of phrases about sex and money!There is a revival of the Ladino language now at Florida International University and the University of Seattle as well, but there are very few Jews today who are fluent in Ladino.I don't know much about the Aiellos in Greece or Turkey except that they were fleeing the Inquisition as well.
So there you have it.. thank you for your inquiry and keep in touch..