ROME (Oct. 13)
The funeral services held yesterday for two-year-old Stefano Tasche was an occasion of mourning and catharsis for the Jews of Rome. About 15,000 people, virtually the entire Jewish population of this city, marched in the funeral cortege. The release of emotions enabled a reconciliation of sorts between the Jewish community and Italian officialdom which it blamed for creating a climate in which violence against Jews was permissable.
The child was killed when unidentified terrorists attacked Jewish worshippers outside the main synagogue last Saturday. Another 37 people, including women and young children, were wounded in the hail of machinegun fire and grenade fragments. The stunning grief was accompanied by anger against Pope John Paul II, President Sandro Pertini and other officials who last month gave a warm reception to Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat.
That was seen by Italian Jews as the legitimization of a terrorist leader and arch-enemy of Israel and the Jewish people. Jews were also furious with the Italian media for what they considered unfair criticism of Israel’s actions in Lebanon, bordering on anti-Semitism. The Rome Jewish community isolated itself and rejected all expressions of sympathy. “Words serve little purpose,” declared Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff.
MOVES TOWARD RECONCILIATION
But at the funeral yesterday, Toaff and President Pertini embraced and the Chief Rabbi spoke of reconciliation, reconstruction and peace. No Italian authorities had been invited to the burial services, although the community announced that “whoever wishes could come.” Pertini came, accompanied by Premier Giovanni Spadolini, the only senior minister who had refused to greet Arafat. President Pertini kissed the tiny coffin of the dead child whom the Chief Rabbi designated a “holy martyr” of Judaism.
There were other Christian friends among the mourners. They were former partisan fighters and survivors of the Holocaust which took the lives of many non-Jews in Italy during World War II. Most of the staff of Fatebenefratelli Hospital, a Catholic institution where the victims of the synagogue attack were rushed for treatment, also attended. The Jewish community expressed gratitude for their swift response and medical skills which saved many lives.
Otto Lenghi, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, spoke just before the cortege set off on its sombre march through the streets of Rome. He said the procession had been decided on: “to break through the isolation” into which Rome’s Jews plunged themselves after Saturday’s tragedy.
The cortege moved slowly from Tiberine Island which houses the hospital — from where young Stefano’s mother, recovering from wounds, watched tearfully — to the main synagogue where Rabbi Toaff recited prayers. It ended in front of the Pantheon.
The marchers included a massive turn-out of teenagers. They carried signs reading, “The Jewish People Live,” “We Italians are all Wounded Jews,” “Yesterday’s anti-Semitism is Today’s anti-Zionism,” “Exist. Live Together,” and “Understanding lies in Dialogue.”
MOURNERS REMAIN BITTER
But while reconciliation was in the air, the mood of the mourners remained bitter. Most Jews boycotted an official day of mourning Monday proclaimed by the municipal, provincial and regional governments and the federation of trade unions. The one Jewish delegation was led by architect Bruno Zevi who recited a list of accusations and demanded passage of a law that would make anti-Semitism a criminal offense.
Italian factories and businesses observed a two-hour work stoppage Monday and bus drivers called a strike in demonstrations of solidarity with Rome’s Jews. The leftist Labor Union Federation held a rally in Santissimi Apostoli Square. It drew fewer than 1,000 people, a tiny fraction of those who had turned out for a pro-PLO rally several weeks ago.
The audience was generally apathetic as the union leaders spoke in general terms about solidarity and sympathy. There were no posters bearing any messages of solidarity with the Jewish community. However, leaflets were distributed at the Federation’s rally stating, “No to Racism and Violence, Yes to Recognition of the PLO.”