Intermarriage is a growing issue not just here in the United States but in every Jewish community outside of Israel, and I was reminded of that fact while on vacation last week in Rome, Italy. The Jewish community in Rome has a fascinating history dating continuously from the second century B.C.E. Its unique history was vividly brought to life by tour guide Micaela Pavoncello, who specializes in walking tours of Rome’s Jewish Ghetto and is herself a proud Roman Jew. I wasn’t the first JOI staff member to take Micaela’s tour; our executive director Kerry Olitzky recommended her to me and my family after his visit to Rome a couple of years ago. Now we at JOI are recommending her to anyone who happens to visit Rome and wants to connect with a fascinating and still vibrant Jewish community.
Touring the Jewish Ghetto in Rome is especially powerful in light of the mandatory visit all tourists must make to the Vatican State, walking-distance across the Tiber River that includes incredible riches such as the gold- and marble-covered St. Peter’s Basilica (largest church in the world) and Michelangelo’s awe-inspiring Sistine Chapel ceiling. To then have Micaela explain the long, sad story of the relationship between Rome’s Popes and Rome’s Jews—and to walk the tiny three-square-blocks in which thousands of Jews at a time were forced to live—is a moving experience, and one that also illustrates just how far Jews have come in recent generations.
Today, the Jewish Ghetto has become so trendy that high rents are forcing out most long-standing residents, as reported in last Sunday’s Boston Globe. More importantly, the decline in anti-Semitism and the acceptance of Jews has led to an increasing rate of intermarriage among Rome’s Jews, who number less than one percent of the total Roman population.