“The Land Of Death:” Before Pesach, Jewish Kehilla In Rome Still In The Shadow Of COVID

Illustrative. Interior of the Great Synagogue of Rome. (Courtesy)

Italy was dubbed “the land of death” this past year and the Jewish community celebrated Pesach last year under a dark shadow of gloom. Unfortunately, this year Italy has not yet fully emerged from the crisis, and Pesach will be once again celebrated under the shadow of COVID-19.

The Chief Rabbi of Rome and Vice President of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER), Rabbi Shmuel Riccardo Di Segni, spoke to Kikar H’Shabbat about Pesach in Italy this year.

Rabbi Di Segni started out the interview by expressing his sadness about the severe restrictions on shul attendance still in place in Rome. “It’s true that the shuls are open, but with coronavirus restrictions,” he said. “Unfortunately, very few people are allowed to congregate relative to the size of the shuls.”

“There’s a curfew every night that begins at 10 p.m. and I’m not optimistic about the future – it seems apparent that the nightly curfew will continue for a long time.”

Regarding the vaccination program in Italy, Rabbi Di Segni clarified: “It’s mamash not like Israel. Everything surrounding vaccines is being carried out very slowly and it will still be a long time and a lot of despair until we’ll see the light regarding vaccines.”

What will Leil HaSeder night look like in Italy? “Right now they’re allowing us to have two guests on Leil HaSeder,” Rabbi Di Segni said. “But unfortunately, this allowance has nothing to do with consideration for Jewish tradition. The true reason is to allow guests to those who celebrate Easter, which falls out immediately after Pesach. They couldn’t discriminate and not allow the Jews to host guests for Pesach – and this only happened of course after we intervened via our connections with the government.”

So the situation in Italy for Pesach is not ideal but it’s definitely better than last year when gatherings were prohibited altogether. As Rabbi Di Segni told Yated Neeman said last year: “Now our problems are so extensive that dealing with the lack of minyanim seems relatively minor compared with the questions we’re grappling with now. The Jewish community in Rome, which numbers 15,000 Jews, is in the most difficult situation in the past century besides World War II due to the coronavirus crisis. There is a total lack of certainty here. We’re trying to stabilize the situation but there’s immense pressure here to the point of total collapse and there is an extremely difficult emotional atmosphere. We know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel but we don’t know how long the tunnel is.”

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)