This article was produced as part of JTA’s Teen Journalism Fellowship, a program that works with teens across the world to report on issues that impact their lives.
TURIN (JTA) — The ancient Jewish community of Turin, in northern Italy, located in the multi-ethnic neighborhood San Salvario, isn’t hard to find. Visitors just need to point their nose upward and look for the domes of the 140-year-old synagogue.
What is hard to find is young people to fill the pews.
Most of Italy’s 30,000 Jews live in Rome and Milan. Smaller communities, like the one in Turin, struggle to survive. Since 1989, new enrollments in Turin’s Jewish community have steadily dropped. In 2001 there were fewer than 1,000, according to the institution’s archives. Today, membership stands at 748, of whom only 19% are under 30 years of age.
Those over 65 represent 55% of Turin’s Jewish residents, according to the community secretariat. There are only 21 Jewish people under 18 in Turin. Worldwide the Jewish population is growing, with a total of almost 15 million Jews.
Former community leader Giuseppe Segre is putting his hope in the next chief rabbi of Turin, Ariel Finzi. Since Finzi took office in September, he has set educating young Jews in Turin as a top goal.
Born and raised in Turin, he moved to Israel where he studied advanced programming. He earned a degree in engineering from the Technion in Haifa and eventually found his way to IBM. He completed his rabbinical studies in Turin and then moved to Naples, where he became the chief rabbi seven years ago. As the son of a former Hebrew school teacher, Finzi, 62, said he wants to teach young people about Torah.
At his inauguration, Finzi called the situation in Turin a “demographic crisis,” He said the current situation “derives in turn from a crisis of our personal and collective Jewish identity, which we will have to try to face with courage and sincerity together with our young and very young,” he said to a group of 300 attendees.
In an interview with JTA he reiterated that young people have always been a priority for him. “I have only recently arrived, but I have always had a great passion for teaching Judaism to the youngest,” he said. “We need to look for a common language.”
Finzi wants to organize private lessons with young people, to talk to them personally and understand their problems with Judaism. He plans to arrange for young people to lead prayers in the synagogue in order to stimulate their active participation.
Turin is the birthplace of one of the world’s most famous Jews: Primo Levi, Holocaust survivor and author of “If This is a Man” (titled “Survival in Auschwitz” in the United States). The city also played a key role in the struggle against Nazism in World War II through the Partisan Resistance, for which the city as a whole was awarded a gold medal for military valor in 1959.
Young Jewish Turinese are worried they are involved in a problem that is too serious for them to solve.“I have few Jewish friends with whom I can go to synagogue and celebrate Jewish holidays, and this certainly saddens and bores me,” said David Foa, 12.
However, for Filippo Tedeschi, 27, who now lives in Florence, his time in Turin strengthened his connection to Judaism because he was one of the few Jewish teens. “I knew I had many friends with whom I shared differences,” he said. “I was in a certain respect different from them, but I always believed that belonging to a minority was a value that should be defended.”
Young people in Turin rarely engage in Jewish activities, beyond attending services on special occasions like Pesach, Kippur or Purim with their relatives. Turin Jewish leaders are trying to figure out what the life of this community may be in the coming years.
“To counteract the absence of young people, it is essential to try to establish a safer channel of communication with them,” said Segre, the former president of the community. He also suggested stimulating teen’s membership in Jewish youth movements such as Hashomer Hatzair or the Union of Young Italian Jews.
The problem is that there are still very few young people, and even if they attended assiduously the situation would hardly change. But Finzi has already seen some improvements. “At Simchat Torah there were a lot of young people in the synagogue, and a Shabbaton has already been organized here in Turin,” he said.
To bring young people back together, the community is also trying to organize fun activities. Rabbi Finzi is helping to organize a soccer game in a few weeks to be played in the Valentino Park near the community.
“The absence of young people greatly penalizes our community, which is struggling to adapt with the times,” said Turin’s new rabbi. “This problem is certainly due to an important biological factor, but all of this makes the situation very complex and delicate. The community needs new blood to continue living.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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