Jewish chief defies Italy’s anti-Semites

Riccardo Pacifici, who lost his grandparents at the Auschwitz concentration camp, presides over Rome’s Jewish Community. The Local finds out why he was in the news this week.

Jewish chief defies Italy's anti-Semites
Riccardo Pacifici. Photo: Jewish Community of Rome

Tell us a bit about Riccardo Pacifici.

He was born in Rome in 1962, where he later attended the capital’s Jewish School. He was a salesman and also got involved in Jewish movements before becoming president of Rome's Jewish Communtiy in 1988.

He is the grandson of Riccardo Reuven Pacifici, who was chief rabbi of the Genoa Jewish Community.

His grandfather saved countless Jews before being captured in 1943 and sent to Auschwitz, where he died along with his wife, Wanda Abenaim, and other family members.

And why is he in the news this week?

On Wednesday, Pacifici gave a testimony at the trial of seven right-wing extremists, during which he revealed that a pig’s head was sent to his home.

The grisly package was received ten days after other pig’s heads were sent to Rome’s synagogue and Jewish museum in late January, a few days ahead of the International Commemoration Day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

The attack was denounced by Rome’s mayor, Ignazio Marino, as “despicable”.

As the hearing drew to a close, Pacifici is also reported to have got into a shouting match with one of the defendants from the Militia movement, Stefano Schiavelli. Schiavelli allegedly "verbally provoked" Pacifici in a way that prompted Pacifici to ask "is that a threat?".

Pacifici was escorted out of the courtroom by his bodyguards while reportedly repeating “I am not afraid”.

Has he been the victim of other anti-Semitic threats?

Several, along with many of Italy’s 30,000 Jews, who continue to suffer discrimination at the hands of anti-Semitic movements, according to a report last week.

Pacifici has always fearlessly protected the community, which he says regularly receives threats from “anti-zionist groups, xenophobic groups, Nazis and other right-wing groups – as well as Catholic fundamentalist groups because of our commitment."

The US State Department’s Country Report on Human Rights Practices last week revealed that twenty-six percent of Jews in Italy experienced anti-Semitic harassment, such as vandalism and online hate speech, in the 12 months up to November 2013.

But in an interview late last year Pacifici insisted that Italy is “different to other European countries” where “the risk from right-wing groups is far greater.”

He also said the reactions of the Italian authorities, public opinion and society to anti-Semitic attacks is “very strong…Even when you consider the most insignificant phenomenon like anti-Semitic graffiti on a wall on the street."

Have there been fatal attacks against Jews in Italy?

In 1982, a two year old boy was killed when five Palestinian militants bombed the entrance of Rome’s synagogue as families made their way home from the Sabbath service.

Pacifici’s father, Emanuel, was also seriously injured in the attack.

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Body of missing American tourist found in Rome’s River Tiber

The body of a missing 21-year-old tourist was found in the River Tiber on Thursday morning, according to media reports.

Body of missing American tourist found in Rome's River Tiber

Elijah Oliphant, from Dallas, Texas, was on holiday with his family in Rome when he went missing several days ago.

Oliphant’s parents reported his disappearance after he left his hotel room shortly after midnight on May 24th and did not return.

Hotel security footage showed him leaving the premises wearing a white undershirt and pyjama bottoms, which he was wearing when he was found.

Oliphant’s corpse was reportedly spotted by passersby near the Ponte Sisto bridge in Rome’s Trastevere district around 10am on Thursday morning. His body was positively identified by his parents.

Members of the fire brigade and river police who recovered the body say there were no obvious signs of violence, but an autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death. Trastevere police are reportedly investigating the matter.

The Oliphant family had arrived in Rome for a holiday on May 23rd. When Elijah went missing the following day, his parents launched an urgent appeal to help find their son.

His disappearance was featured on the missing persons television show, Chi l’ha visto (‘Who’s seen them?’) on May 25th.

Several foreigners have been found drowned in the Tiber in recent years, though there are no indication that any of the incidents are linked.

In 2016, the body of 19-year-old American student Beau Solomon was recovered from the river.

Rough sleeper Massimo Galioto was charged involuntary manslaughter in the case, but was ultimately acquitted in 2020.

Prosecutors said that Galioto pushed Solomon in the course of a violent argument. Galioto’s defense team acknowledged that the two had argued but said the student had accidentally slipped.

In May 2019, 37-year-old Imen Chatbouri, a former athletics champion from Tunisia, was found dead in the Tiber after a night out. CCTV footage later showed she had been pushed from the Ponte Sisto bridge.

A then-26-year-old man whose advances she had rejected earlier that evening was convicted of her murder in November 2021.