Italy’s First Woman Rabbi is Target of Pointed Graffitti “This time we’ll cut you to pieces”

[received by email]

“This time we’ll cut you to pieces” by Rabbi Barbara Aiello

Last week I found antisemitic graffiti on a wall very near to my home. It was a long message written in foot high letters. Its meaning was clear: “Pay attention, Jew. Last time we burned you in the ovens. This time we will chop you to pieces.”

I live in Italy, but not in the big cities of Milan or Rome where offensive graffiti of all kinds covers what seems like every available inch of window or storefront space. I live in the “foot of the boot,” in a little town called Lamezia Terme. It is the area where my father grew up and where I have begun renovations on a 300 year old house that has been in my family for generations. It is the area of “Timpone,” the Old Jewish Quarter that dates back to the 12th century. Happily, gratefully I have returned to my roots and then… this.

The offensive words have been removed, thanks to my police report and to the mayor’s quick action. I also phoned the local paper, “Quodidiano” which ran a story with photographs of the graffiti (attached) , and my own words as headline, “Ho paura,” which means in Italian, “I am afraid.”

When I filed my complaint, I also brought phots of other anti-semitic graffiti thas has appeared of late. One says, “Juden Raus. ” Another reads, “Italy for Italians.. out Jews and Africans.” There are now about 50 swastikas around the city, triple from just a year ago. The police were very kind and attentive, even making follow-up telephone calls to be sure that I’m all right. The graffiti phrases are removed but the swastikas remain, even the ones I call the “learning disabled” variety. These don’t quite make it design-wise, but the intent is clear.

How can this be… in this small town in the “instep of the Italian boot?” There may be several reasons but my opinion is that these incidents are related to the wide access that the Skinheads, Neo Nazis and other hate groups have to the internet. I believe that a European-wide organization exists that incites this type of activity and ultimately violence. Italians here in the south of Italy don’t speak German. “Juden Raus” and similar phrases are found on anti-semitic websites and encourage twisted youth and professional haters throughout Europe to copy them.

That coupled with the my visible Jewish presence. I am the first woman rabbi in Italy. I wear the traditional head covering (kipah) and have begun a Jewish Italian Cultural Center to help Calabrians discover and reconnect with their Jewish roots. (Note: At one time, before the Expulsion from Spain and the Inquisition, historians believe that the population of Calabria was at least 50 percent Jewish.) Recent news articles and television reports have covered the opening of the Cultural Center. Is there a connection. I believe so.

What about the law? Yes, there is hate-crime legislation here in Italy. Specifically, Law N° 205/1993 prohibits the dissemination of ideas based on superiority or racial and ethnic discrimination, as well as the incitement to commit or the commission of discriminatory acts for racial, ethnic, national or religious reasons (Section 3(1) a. of Law N° 654/1975 as amended by Law N° 205/1993). It also punishes the incitement to commit or the commission of violent acts or provocation on racial, ethnic, national or religious grounds (Section 3(1) b. of Law N° 654/1975 as amended by Law N° 205/1993). In addition, the display or manifestation of emblems or symbols of organisations, associations, movements inciting to discrimination or violence for racial, ethnic, national or religious reasons is punished, especially when it takes place at public meeting or sport events (Section 2 of Law N° 205/1993).

I hope that these criminals will be caught and prosecuted. But, I wonder… Hmmm… how was someone able to write such a long message with such large letters without anyone… anyone at all… seeing it being done? It must have taken quite a long time to compose such a message on a wall, on a well-lit, well travelled street. There must have been observers but clearly no one called the police. It calls to mind the words of Edmund Burke: “Evil flourishes when good men do nothing.”

Personally speaking there is another quote that is even more appropriate for me. It was said by a Jewish survivor of the Auschwitz death camp following the traditional January 27 memorial service. When asked by a reporter what he had learned about his “experience,” he said, “When someone says they want to kill you, believe them.”

I am a modern Jew, an American citizen and the daughter of a liberator of the Buchenwald Camp. But I live in Europe where anti-semitic remarks and graffiti as well as anti-Jewish violence is on the rise. “Never Again,” has begun to pale. In its place I find myself thinking, “I hope not. But you never know.”

Rabbi Barbara Aiello
Lamezia Terme, (CZ) Italia

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