A terrorist struck at the Jewish Museum in Brussels on Sunday. The police are trying to find the killer, but meanwhile, two days later, crowds of people came to the Jewish Museum in solidarity…in Rome.
Riccardo Pacifici, the president of the Rome Jewish community, spoke in a way the Belgians and other European Jews should have:
“It’s time to show these rogues, these murderers, that we are not afraid, they do not intimidate us. We will march together and take them to jail,” according to Italy’s Il Messagero newspaper on Monday.
While many Jews on the other side of the Alps are so frightened of being attacked, they are either leaving or trying to conceal their Jewish identity, it is quite different in Italy, as I detailed recently in Tablet Magazine.
In Rome, the Jews have developed a reputation for being tough guys, and they’ve proved the image is correct. Ever since the main synagogue on the banks of the Tiber was bombed by Palestinian terrorists in 1982, the Rome Community have organized self-defense groups that have gone after antisemitic groups in the city. They have staged public demonstrations, smashed the headquarters of Jew-hating groups, and occupied courtrooms where Nazis were on trial, lest the judges think there was little public concern about the verdict.
The result? Judaism is booming in Italy, and has become chic in recent years. The kosher restaurants in the Rome Ghetto are full, the neighborhood is full of tour groups (many of which are not Jewish, and are actually comprised of Romans and other Italians), and both rents and housing prices have gone sky-high.
There is even a trickle of Catholics converting to Judaism, especially in the south, where families are finding that their ancestors were forcibly converted to Catholicism during the Inquisition. A few weeks ago, the chief rabbi of Naples sent a letter to the governors of the six southern provinces, asking them to set aside October 31st as a commemoration of the forced conversions and expulsions that were carried out in the mid-16th century.
I think that the vigorous response to the bombing of the synagogue goes hand in hand with the newfound appeal of Judaism, and the open support for the Jews that was seen Monday, when the museum in the synagogue was open until midnight. I suspect that if the Jewish communities in France, Belgium, Holland and Scandinavia were more aggressive in defending themselves and taking the political and physical fights to the antisemites, there would be fewer attacks on Jews, and the national governments would be less cowardly.
The Italian Jews’ refusal to be intimidated is all the more surprising, and admirable, given the tiny number of them. Rome, the biggest community, has a mere 15,000 Jews, and there are roughly 35,000 nation-wide. It helps that this pope, like his two predecessors, openly likes Jews, and that the new prime minister is similarly disposed (he did many things for the miniscule Jewish community when he was mayor of Florence). But the lion’s share of the credit goes to the Jews themselves, and to brave leaders like Pacifici and the religious leaders who have joined the campaign, who insist on fighting back.
Keep watching this story, there’s a lot going on in Italy.