An Italian Love Story Turns Into Journey into the Passover Kitchen

Visit to Eternal City Becomes Jewish Culinary Adventure

Courtesy of Rachel Shelasky

By Alyssa Shelasky

Published April 15, 2014, issue of April 11, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

A year ago, I came to Rome to work on my next book, take a break from New York, and enjoy la dolce vita — decidedly alone.

The day I arrived in the city, lost and bedraggled, I asked a stranger on a motorbike for directions. He was wearing beat-up jeans and had a devilish stare. Over coffee I learned that the mysterious stranger, with his hand-rolled cigarettes and arrogant charm was also… Jewish. David was an “Anav” — one of the oldest Jewish families in Rome.

I grew up in a strong Jewish home in Massachusetts, but my connection to my Jewishness had faded. After 18 years in New York, chasing excitement and success, I lost touch with my religious identity. I was always proud to be Jewish, but it all felt rather irrelevant.

And yet, when the Anav family graciously took me in, opening the majestic double doors to their beautiful Piazza Bologna apartment that first Shabbat and making me feel ever so warm and welcomed, suddenly it all felt very relevant.

Roman Jews are neither Sephardim nor Ashkenazim. They are Roman. Their Hebrew is almost unascertainable. It is belted out loud and fast, with thick Italian accents, and at the end of Kiddush they happily shout, “Hazak!” (Hebrew for “strong.”)

They don’t know Yiddish, although meshuga, has made it into a conversation or two. They don’t eat — and some have never heard of — bagels, and the name “Larry David” doesn’t ring a bell. Their services are impassioned and amplified (a wild assembly of gossiping and davening).

Jewish life in Rome centers on the historic ghetto — a neighborhood that is equal parts familiar and fascinating to me. The big synagogue emanates an upbeat message of Jewish solidarity. It was there that David’s mamma and I first spent time alone. It was Yom Kippur, and I arrived wearing all black while everyone else was dressed in white. I felt uncomfortable and anxious. When I found Edith sitting in the balcony of the “old-school” synagogue, she had saved me a seat, and waved me over without any hesitation. Our stomachs growled as we prayed side by side.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.