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September, 2006

28Sep6:00 pm- 8:00 pmThe Mayor of Rome, Hon. Walter Veltroni presents: The Jewish Community of Rome Between Past and PresentCenter for Jewish History, 15 West 16 Street, New York, NY 100116:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Event Details

Walter Veltroni was born in Rome and began his political career as member of the Italian Young Communist Federation. From 1976 to 1981 he held the post of city counselor of Rome. In 1987, Mr. Veltroni became a member of the Parliament. Appointed as a member of the Italian Communist Party’s national secretariat in 1988, he played a lead role in the transformation of the party into a social-democratic force.

A professional journalist, Mr. Veltroni was the editor in chief of L’Unità from 1992 to 1996. He has been Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Cultural Heritage in the Prodi Government, as well as Member of the European Parliament between 1999 and 2004. He was elected Mayor of Rome in 2001 and was reconfirmed in May 2006. In August 2006 he published his first novel, La scoperta dell’alba (The Discovery of Sunrise).

Notes on the Jewish Community of Rome

The Jewish community of Rome is the most ancient community in the diaspora having resided in the city uninterruptedly for 2000 years. The first Jewish settlement in the city precedes the destruction of the second Temple which was perpetrated by Titus in the year 70 c.e.

Under the Roman Empire Roman Jews formed a prominent center of culture and business. In the Middle Ages the community continued to cultivate religious and social traditions greatly contributing to the copying of codexes, the divulgation of science and assuming the role of cultural mediator between the Islamic and Christian worlds as well as between antiquity and modernity.

With the arrival of Spanish Jews in 1492 the Sephardic mihnag and cultural traditions became part of the communal landscape. In 1555 pope Paolo IV established the ghetto of Rome, dramatically restricting the ability of Jews to interact with the larger world. The gates of the ghetto were closed at night and re-opened in the morning. Many commercial activities became precluded and heavy social, legal, and economic restrictions were applied to the community, including the prohibition to have more than one synagogue. At that time Roman Jews incorporated under one roof their various “scholae” (Scola Tempio, Scola Nova, Scola Catalana, Scola Siciliana, Scola Castigliana) that represented the great diversity of Jewish traditions coexisting in the city.

Churches were erected by the gate of the ghetto in which Jews were periodically forced to attend mass.

In spite of all odds however, Jewish life continued to thrive and the Jewish population of Rome grew from 1500 to 5000 in the 315 years of the ghetto, which was the last in Europe to be open. The emancipation of the Jewish community of Rome arrived in 1870 with the end of the Papal power and the annexation of Rome to unified Italy, to which Roman Jews took active part.

In the decades past the unification the ghetto was largely dismantled and Jews moved to other areas of the city. The “Cinque Scholae” were taken down and the “Tempio maggiore” was built and inaugurated in 1904.

Only three years later, in 1907, a prominent member of the Jewish community, Ernesto Nathan was elected Mayor of Rome.

Nathan had a remarkable influence on the public infrastructure, boosting public education (he created 150 primary schools) and institutionalizing water distribution, public transportation, and the sport administration.

Roman Jews became integral part of the new Italy until their freedom was taken away once again with the Fascist racial laws of 1938 that deprived Jews of all their civil rights. After the armistice between the allies and the army of the king of Italy, on October 16, 1943 the Jewish community of Rome was rounded up and in the following few months about 1,800 people were deported to Auschwitz. Only a handful survived. According to recent studies conducted with the declassification of the US State Department WWII documents both Allied and Vatican officials were informed of the Nazi plans as early as August/September 1943 but there was no effort to warn the community which was caught by surprise on the holiday of Sukkot.

Today the Jewish community of Rome counts about 15,000 members and 16 synagogues. In recent years partnerships with the municipality of Rome and other institutions enabled the creation of the Library of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities, the recent renovation of the Jewish Museum, the spur of research in the Communal Historical Archives, and the opening of the Museum of the Shoah. The arrival of Libyan Jews in 1968 and of Russian Jews in the 1980’s further enriched Jewish cultural life and strengthened the community role as the oldest of the European minorities, its intellectual vitality, and its ability to continue to renew itself.

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