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Sergio Joséf Sierra.
Chief Rabbi of the JewishCommunity of Bologna from 1948 to 1959

I was the first rabbi to work in Bologna after the war, from 1948 to the end of 1959. Everything had been destroyed. What remained of the temple was just a heap of rubble. The Community building was more or less in ruins and had no electricity or gas whatsoever. But the worst thing was the sad feeling caused by the emptiness we felt for those who had been deported. There was also a widespread sense of confusion.

However, for my wife and me this meant that we had the chance to take part to the reconstruction of Bologna’s small community which required not only great effort and a spirit of sacrifice, but also great enthusiasm in order to make some sense out of the new conditions that history had created for us, and to try to give some new significance to the experience of life once again, not only as Jews culturally but also as human beings.

The Jewish people who had survived faced the task of starting their normal lives again after the war had interrupted it. They had to reassert their will to be Jewish with dignity and strength. This was necessary not only for themselves, but above all for their children.

In 1948 I delivered my first public speech in Bologna for Shavu’ot, the Feast of Weeks, and on the same occasion I celebrated the birth of the Jewish nation. I emphasized that what united us the with the newly born Jewish nation was the Torah, the spiritual heritage of Israel, a country born under the sign of the Decalogue whose multi-millenary anniversary we were also celebrating.

During my work as a rabbi I tried my best to bring those who were had gone astray closer to the work of the few deserving people who tried to carry out community service in the interest and for the benefit of the entire community.

The leaders of the council and the rabbi had to face an enormous task: they had to try to raise funds, they held meetings every night, they had to seek out every single Jewish person, to rally the Jewish awareness, to make children and young people want to come back to lessons and, at the same time, try to obtain the necessary resources for reconstructing the temple.

For holy days we would rent a local gymnasium and prayer services (T’filot) took place there. It was necessary to make the people understand that every element of Jewish life we had been separated from, was still part of our Jewish soul that had been forced to abandon us. It was a sort of weakening resistance to the dangers of loosing our Jewish identity that we had to deal with every single day and so did our children, who were expected to continue living according to the Bible.

Together with Isacco Cohen, Eugenio Heiman and Renzo Soliani — who alternated as chairmen of the Jewish community after Emilio Supino, the first president after the war, and before Guido Rimini and Bianca Finzi who would hold office later (editor’s note) — and many others who cared about the destiny of Jewish Bologna, I did my utmost to reopen an efficient community center, so that it might be a meeting- place for everybody and the center of Jewish life.

Great efforts were made to accomplish reconstruction of the community, to rebuild the temple and to make it once again a “Beit HaAm,” a “House for the people,” a “school” where it would be possible to take part in services and to the words of a rabbi who would teach them according to his study and research on the Torah.

Day after day, and with both love and anxiety, we witnessed the progress of the reconstruction of our temple, the so called “Beth ha Knesset.” On the eve of its dedication ceremony Heiman, my wife and I went inside. We switched on all the lights and then, deeply moved, we all hugged each other.

The Jews who lived in Bologna could now go to the new temple and pray, or reunite themselves both intellectually and sentimentally with the past and present history of the Jewish people, the uninterrupted chain of generations who came before ours.

It was dedicated in September 1954, in the presence of rabbis, worshippers, important people from local administration and Mr. Sasson, the Israeli Ambassador to Italy. Efforts aimed at re-educating the community towards a better understanding of Jewish consciousness were made and continued in frequency throughout the years. Thanks to the cooperation of the members of Bologna’s small Jewish community, many activities were organized, such as: courses on the study of the Torah, conferences, Jewish YouthCenter meetings, and even a kindergarten and, some time later, a primary school were opened.

These were the goals that came one after the other in the lives of a people who were doing their best togive an answer to human problems, and provide humanity with a critical proposal through a progressiverediscovery of their Judaism.

To my great joy, in Israel, where I moved about nine years ago, I had the chance to meet a great number of my ex-students again. They had been my disciples in Bologna’s Talmud Torah, where we used to haveanimated discussions in the hopes of regaining spiritual strength through study and dialogue which wouldbring us closer to the sources of Jewish knowledge.

Today I saw doctors, architects, and university professors once again, who were among my studentsback in Bologna, and who are Israeli citizens. They came here to honor their old rabbi who had dedicatedhimself full time to the reestablishment of the Bologna’s Jewish community for twelve years.

Our time together did not allow me to go more into detail about a great number of things that showhow much joy my chance to work together with Jewish people in Bologna gave my life.

At the time, I was honored by their understanding and trust, and by the fact that the life of theircommunity always foremost on their minds.

As a master who will never forget his first community, where, along with the ruins of the temple, what remains of indifference and the symptoms of decline have finally cleared away, I wish you all my very best.The temple was rebuilt to glorify G-d. And even today the community of Bologna still wants to add itsefforts to those of the Jewish people. I wish the Rabbi, the Council and all the Jewish people of Bolognagreat success in achieving this goal.

An affectionate shalom from Jerusalem

Font: "The Synagogue of Bologna, the past, present and future of a Jewish presence"