Chief Rabbi Prays for Peace, Offers Succor to Roman Jews

Italy’s chief rabbi, Elio Toaff, offered fervent prayers for peace in the Middle East at the main synagogue here this week and tried to succor Rome’s Jewish community, which seems to feel especially vulnerable to terrorist acts.

There are 15,000 Jews in Rome. The main synagogue in the heart of the old ghetto on the banks of the Tiber was the target of an attack by Arab terrorists in 1982 which left a small child dead and scores of worshippers wounded.

For years afterward, the synagogue and other Jewish institutions were guarded by armed police, and Toaff himself still lives surrounded by bodyguards.

In recent days, the prospect of a war in the Persian Gulf that could possibly involve Israel had heightened tension in the Jewish community.

“We’re afraid, and why not?” a young woman asked.

“Every morning we take our children to (the Jewish) school protected by police armed with machine guns, and now these security forces have been increased,” she said.

Police officials here have assured Toaff that security measures for the Jewish community would be increased. At the same time, Jewish leaders have been discussing parallel security measures of their own.

Under the circumstances, it was no surprise that the main synagogue was jammed Monday as the U.N.-imposed deadline for the use of force against Iraq approached.

“We pray today that we are spared a war,” Rabbi Toaff intoned. “But we know that there cannot be peace, that peace we consider the supreme good, without or against justice.”

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