Life & Culture

Our Roman voyage of rediscovery and Jewish identity

the group providing an inclusive environment for young people to explore their place as Jews in Italian society


In a climate of increasing antisemitism in Europe , Rome's young Jews are redefining their identity through get-togethers, treasure hunts and bike rides around the ancient city.

The events are run by Haviyu et Hayum (Bring the Day) - an organisation started four years ago due to what one of its founders, Enrico Campelli, describes as the necessity to create a space for dialogue inside the Jewish Roman community, "who more and more are lacking in such a space, physically and ideally".

In recent months, the independent group has become increasingly relevant following a spike in antisemitic incidents across Europe, including this year's fatal attacks in Paris and Copenhagen and controversies surrounding Italy's Liberation Day - a national holiday commemorating the end of fascism and Nazi occupation.

In recent years, explains Campelli, "the presence of [the Jewish Brigade] in the national parade of liberation is accompanied by shouts and insults, anti-Israeli rhetoric and many Palestinian flags".

The environment became so threatening that representatives of the Jewish community alongside Aned (the National Association of Italian political deportees from Nazi concentration camps) pulled out of Rome's April 25 event this year. At the Milan equivalent, marches involving the Jewish Brigade were the subject of verbal attacks, according to the Huffington Post.

‘Are you an Italian Jew or a Jewish Italian?’ Haviyu et Hayum paricipants do in Rome as Roman Jews do

"We thought that the best response to reaffirm the right to recall the Jewish role in the Italian resistance was to begin a series of tours, discussions and testimonies, open to all," Campelli says.

In response, Haviyu et Hayum ran events in Rome last month mapping places of Jewish resistance during the Second World war, including a trip to the Historical Museum of Liberation (Via Tasso), the site of the Ardeatine massacre in 1944 and a tour of the hidden places of resistance in Rome, such as Via Giulia, Via del Pellegrino e Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Piazza Navona.

Around 60 people attended the event at Fosse Ardeatine, where the narratives of Jewish partisans like Marco Moscati - whose bravery was only revealed 69 years after the massacre - were relayed. At Via Giulia, the group told the story of Rome's Chief Rabbi (and ex-partisan) Elio Toaff, who passed away earlier this year.

Haviyu et Hayom also runs bicycle treasure hunts around Rome for the 18-35s and is in the planning stages of a series of events for disenfranchised Jews, based on Comunità va cercando ch'è sì cara: sociologia dell'Italia ebraica (A community that is looking to find itself: the sociology of Italian Judaism), a book by sociologist Enzo Campelli, Enrico Campelli's father.

The organisation has grown steadily since its inception, providing a more leftist, secular environment for those of Rome's 45,000 Jews who have felt alienated by the generally conservative views of the community. While Zionist, the organisation's support of Israel is contingent on fair, peace-driving policies which could ultimately lead to a two-state solution, as described in its website's manifesto.

As pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiment become increasingly tangled, Alessandro Gai, another of the organisers, stresses the importance of groups such as Haviyu et Hayom in providing an inclusive environment for young people to explore their place as Jews in Italian society:

"There's a question I think everybody asks themselves: 'Are you an Italian Jew or a Jewish Italian?' Personally, I think I am Italian and then being Jewish is part of my identity. It's important not to pit one against the other, but to have them connect in a healthy way."

Gai says that, in the context of the traditionally right-wing Roman Jewish community, Haviyu et Hayom is a "great space" to revive Jewish identity and hopes other European Jews might build similar movements.

"If you put Judaism first, you don't feel at home - and if you do the opposite, you forget where you come from," he says.

"So it's two ideas you have to compromise."

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