Trading rockets for la dolce vita

The Italian Jewish community offered shell-weary teens a vacation respite.

acre rocket 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
acre rocket 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
A group of 146 teens from Galilee municipalities that were bombarded with Katyushas during the recent war with Hizbullah in Lebanon, together with a large contingent from the Kassam-battered town of Sderot, returned to Israel earlier this week after a two-week holiday in Italy. The all-kosher, rocket-free trip was sponsored by the Italian Jewish community and arranged by the Jerusalem-based Association of Italian Olim. The vacation plans developed spontaneously in early August as a result of a solidarity mission by Jewish leaders from Rome and Turin, explained Vito Anav, a Jerusalem construction contractor and the long-standing vice president of the Italian immigrant organization here. Anav had arranged a meeting with Mayor Uri Lupolianski for Leone Paserman, president of the Rome community, and Riccardo Pacifici, vice president of Rome's Jewish community. When the guests heard about the 1,500 children from the Galilee and Haifa Bay who had been brought south to the safety of Jerusalem, many with inadequate housing, they asked Anav to select 50 children to be brought to Italy. Anav turned to Zvi Raviv, director of the New Jerusalem Fund, which quickly managed to collect $200,000 from Italy's 25,000 Jews. Thirty children were hosted by Rome's Jews and the Eternal City's Mayor Walter Veltroni; 67 kids went to Caletta, Tuscany, to a summer camp run by Italy's Jews from where they toured Sienna, Florence, Leghorn and a local water park; 35 holidayed in Opicina, a village 5 km. from the Adriatic port of Trieste; and 14 visited Anzio, a beach resort south of Rome. The children ranged in age from 12 to 17. For Anav, the holiday respite was emotional proof of the strong bond between the Jews of his two Mediterranean homelands. "We got passports within a day for the children who didn't have them, working with Interior Ministry officials who worked overtime," he said. Hebrew-speaking teachers from Italian Jewish day schools volunteered to chaperone the Israeli youth. Anav's 18-year-old daughter Dvora, who is about to be drafted into the IDF, gave up her summer vacation to volunteer as a counsellor for the war tourists, he said. Anav praised Lidia Calo, the director of youth programming for Rome's Jewish community, who left her husband and three children at the beach during their traditional August holiday to join the Israeli children at Caletta. "She was like a mother hen with 67 chicks," he said. But even in the land of la dolce vita, it wasn't possible to completely escape the shadows of war. On the Israeli visitors' first day in Caletta, a factory lunch bell sounded just like the rocket warning siren used back home. For the war-traumatized children, the screech reawakened the horror of life at home turned into a battleground.