By Adam Smulevich
A crowd of people paid their last respects to rav Elio Toaff, chief rabbi of Rome for half century (1951-2001) who passed away last week, just before his 100th birthday. The funeral took place in his hometown Livorno, where rav Toaff will rest next to his wife Lia Luperini. Among those who attended were the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities Renzo Gattegna, a delegation of the Jewish Community of Rome lead by its president Riccardo Pacifici and the chief rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the Israeli ambassador to Italy, Naor Gilon, many Italian rabbis including the president of the Italian Rabbinical Assembly, rav Giuseppe Momigliano.
Rav Toaff was an historic figure of Italian Jewry. He welcomed Pope John Paul II on his visit to the Great Synagogue in 1986, the first known visit by a pope to a synagogue in 2,000 years. During World War II he also fought Nazi-fascism with the Italian partisans and witnessed the crimes committed by the Nazis in the Sant’Anna di Stazzema massacre.
“Rav Toaff was a leader and a point of reference. We will never forget him,” Gattegna said during his funeral. The president of the Jewish Community of Livorno Vittorio Mosseri, commemorating rav Toaff’s connection with his hometown also added: “An anecdote about him has always moved me. A friend told me that he usually liked having a cup of coffee in Ostia (a village on the coast close to Rome) near the sea. The sea that somehow always reminded him of Livorno.”
In a special section in the latest issue of Pagine Ebraiche, all the rabbis who studied with rav Toaff shared their emotions and their memories together with the Jewish demographer Sergio Della Pergola and many Roman Jews.