Oldest Jewish community in Europe under development pressure--but the life goes on





ROME -- From his window, as a boy in October 1943, Pacifico Disegni watched as two German trucks hauled people from the ghetto in Rome, a city where Jews have lived for 2,000 years.

Last year, in blessedly more peaceful times, a rich visitor from Boston took in the view from that same window. A magnificent front-row onto the Theater of Marcellus, first planned by Julius Caesar, somehow salves the stings of history. Disegni, now 78, said the visitor produced a blank check and offered to buy the apartment on the spot.

"He said, 'You write how many millions you want,'" he said.

Disegni, who is Jewish, refused. But these bookend events at his window cast light on a paradox in the city with the oldest Jewish community in Europe. High real estate prices, not violence or bias, are driving the last Jews from their homes in the old ghetto, which is slowly transforming itself into a trendy enclave for the rich and famous.

Experts say only 200 or 300 Jews remain, in a community that numbered 10,000 or more before World War II.

But there is a second paradox: Even as the number of Jews living in the ghetto drops to near nothing, Jewish life is thriving. Rome's Jewish school recently moved to the ghetto from a neighboring area. Jewish shops, including the first kosher fast food restaurants, are popular. Visits to the museum at the grand synagogue have doubled in two years.

"Even if Jews no longer live in the area, they come to open their shops," said Daniela Di Castro, director of the Jewish Museum of Rome.

"So there is always Jewish life around, to work, to go to the synagogue, to buy from the kosher market, bring their children to school," she said. "You always have a reason to come here if you are Jew."



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