my story

Rabbi Barbara Aiello

Italy’s First Woman Rabbi

Rabbi Barbara Aiello was appointed Italy’s first woman rabbi in 2004 and continues to serve as Italy’s only modern, liberal rabbi who lives and works in Italy. She continues to serve Jews throughout Europe as a spokesperson for Pluralistic Judaism – a movement that deliberately blurs denominational lines and extends the hand of Jewish welcome to Jews of all backgrounds.

Rabbi Barbara Aiello was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and is the daughter of a liberator of the Buchenwald concentration camp. She is a graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania where she received the Distinguished Alumni Award. She holds an MS from The George Washington University in Washington DC and received “smeicha” (rabbinic ordination) from The Rabbinical Seminary International and the Rabbinical Academy in New York City.

Rabbi Barbara says, “I am grateful to serve our Jewish “meshpucha” in ways that are exciting and exhilarating. Helping an Italian family discover their Jewish heritage to sharing memories with seniors, many who are more than 100 years old, allow me to fully engage in “L’dor v’dor,” that special Jewish experience of “from generation to generation.” From the United States to the Italian “boot,” these wonderful people continue to enrich my life.”

Discovery – As founder and director of the Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria (IjCCC), Rabbi Barbara Aiello’s mission starts in southern Italy where she works to help “anousim” (Italians whose ancestors were forced into conversion from Judaism) discover and connect with their Jewish roots. The IjCCC staff, including author and historian Vincenzo Villella along with archivist and demographer, Dr. Enrico Mascaro help lost Jews determine the Jewish roots of their surnames, while Rabbi Barbara Aiello extends the hand of Jewish welcome to Italians and Italian Americans who want to know more about their Jewish heritage.

Connection – At Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sud, The “Eternal Light of the South,” Italian anousim find warmth and acceptance as they learn about their Jewish heritage and experience Jewish ritual and observance at the first active synagogue in Calabria and Sicily in 500 years, since Inquisition times. In addition, families around the world participate in a unique Bar and Bat Mitzvah preparation program that provides them with the Jewish experience of a lifetime — a glimpse back in time to an era when Jews practiced in secret and in the face of persecution, held on to their Jewish roots.

Continuity –Building on a ten year connection with Jewish seniors, Rabbi Barbara continues her commitment to Jewish life and heritage with the publication of her book, “Aging Jewishly – What Our Traditions Tell US about Growing Old,” The book offers suggestions to family members and caregvers on how to approach difficult but important subjects with Jewish seniors and how to open a discussion with elderly men and women on issues that are important to them.

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