LEADERS Memories of Rabbi Elio Toaff

toaffBy Rachel Silvera and Francesca Matalon

Among the hundreds of people who gathered for a last farewell to Rabbi Elio Toaff, some knew him well, some had never met him but valued his work in the wake of the tragedies of World War II. There also were many who cherished a memory of their own wedding ceremony and most certainly everyone remembered Rabbo Toaff’s positive personality and affection. Pagine Ebraiche collected some of their stories.

“I want to say the last goodbye to my rabbi, but I’m in a hurry” Elisabetta Calò told Pagine Ebraiche. “I have to go back to work, I’m late.” Elisabetta works at Boccione, the old Jewish Ghetto bakery, universally known for its delicious ‘Pizza Romana’, a sweet pizza made with candied fruit. “I will never forget Rabbi Elio Toaff. When he walked through the Ghetto, He always blessed me and my family. He was really a good man.”

Giovanni Calò and Luciano Coen are timeless friends. They joke all the time with other people like Cesare and they love to spend time together sitting near the old Ghetto. When we asked Luciano to tell us his feelings about Rabbi Toaff he became suddenly serious. “Rabbi Toaff was a wonderful person, he had something like an aura around him. We always wanted to spend more time with him because he could really make you feel like a better person.”

Cesare Del Monte is Giovanni and Luciano’s friend. He silently listened to everything and then he said, “The truth is that Rabbi Toaff saved my life.” When asked why, he answered: “He blessed me many times like when I was sick and I’ve always survived. I’m sure that his blessing helped me to get better. He lengthened my life, Rabbi Toaff was a righteous man.”

Liana Della Rocca was waiting in line to say her final goodbye to Rabbi Elio Toaff. “He was important to me. He officiated at my parents’ wedding, my wedding and my daughter’s wedding; he was a Rabbi to three generations of our family. When my daughter was about to get married, he was already old, but he accepted to officiate at the wedding and I will be always grateful to him for that.”

Tina Baranes was a young teacher when she escaped with her family from Tripoli, Libya to Rome in 1967. After the Six-Day War, Libyan Jews were once again the target of anti-Jewish riots and more than 6,000 of them left Libya for Rome. “Rabbi Toaff helped me and he made me feel more confident. He reassured me and encouraged my teaching career inside the Rome Jewish school. I will never forget him,” Tina explained.

“He was modest but clever. He was educated and charming. A great rabbi for everyone,” pointed out Alberto Veneziani, Sara Calò and Fiorella Di Segni standing sadly in front of the Great Synagogue. “This is a painful loss”. Rabbi Toaff became the Chief Rabbi of Rome after World War II and rebuilt the Jewish community. “My father,” added Sara, “survived Auschwitz but unfortunately he died before he was able to tell his story.”