Behind the Headlines High School Students Unite Against Anti-semitism
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Behind the Headlines High School Students Unite Against Anti-semitism

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— Four supplementary hours a month of voluntary lessons in the history of anti-Semitism with particular reference to World War II have been approved by a student assembly in a Rome high school as a direct reply to an anti-Semitic incident that took place on school grounds several days earlier.

Paola Caviglia, a 14-year-old Jewish high school girl had been pushed down a flight of stairs by a group of neo-fascist students who came from behind her muttering, “Get out of the way, dirty Jews.” But the student body at the Virgilio school just across the Tiber from the Rome Jewish elementary, middle and high schools, were united in strong emotional and intellectual support of Paola.

“I am proud of the Virgilio lyceum”, she said, addressing an assembly hall packed with over 1000 students and parents, including groups from neighboring schools– both Catholic and Jewish plus representatives from Rome’s Jewish community.

Paola thanked the assembly for “the solidarity you have shown.” She said she was unable to identify the assailants because she transferred to the school from the Jewish school system only a few months earlier. “Whoever they are, they will have realized that they have no hope here because you are all on my side,” Paola said.


A measure of Italian public opinion’s sensitivity toward the resurgence of anti-Semitism is the publicity the media gave the incident. Front page headlines referred to this “offence” to a Jewish girl. A poignant comment made by Paola immediately after the incident was extensively quoted: “My mother”, she said, “often told me that there always comes a day when we are confronted with our identity as Jews.”

Now the school’s student body, of its own free will, plans to start filling the information gap which they consider a partial cause of this incident. Lessons in history, ranging from anti-Semitism, Nazism, Fascism and inevitably leading up to more controversial issues regarding the foundation of Israel and the present-day situation in the Middle East, will soon be initiated, subject to the final approval of the school authorities and parent-teacher group representatives.

Paola is a budding actress. She and her brother, Giacomo, founded a semi-professional Jewish theater group that debuted in 1977 with “The Diary of Ann Frank” under the direction of the well-Known Jewish actor-director, Cesare Polacco. It is currently presenting Bassani’s “The Garden of the Finzi-Contini.”

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