For the past 13 years, Rabbi Barbara Aiello has served as Italy’s sole woman rabbi, working in the same mountainous town of Serrastretta that her father, grandfather and many Jews once called home. Much of her work is focused on the “anousim,” Italians whose ancestors were forced into conversion: many of whom are now exploring their Jewish roots.
Aiello, the founder of the Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria and the Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sud, often travels to remote locales throughout Calabria and Sicily, helping many Italians discover their Jewish roots and learn about Judaism in a welcoming and progressive atmosphere.
Now, for the first time, the Pittsburgh-born Aiello will have help – an intern. Michael Pollack, a fourth-year student at RRC will spend his summer helping Aiello lead services, tutor students, run life-cycle events and explore the relevance of Judaism in their own lives.
“I’m delighted to have Michael coming. He will meet people who are absolutely in love with Judaism,” said Aiello. “It can be lonely being a pioneer. I am looking forward to sharing, learning and studying with Michael.”
The internship will last from June 15 to August 15.
Pollack, a native of Rockville, MD, is a passionate social justice activist who recently marched from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., demonstrating for a more responsive and transparent democracy. He speaks little Italian but is ready for a challenging and demanding experience. Pollack expects to be doing many of the same things he would at any student pulpit but in a totally different context and environment.
“One of the grander joys of being a human being is having your feet rooted on the ground while reaching for the stars,” he said. “I’m looking forward to helping Italian Jews root themselves in a tradition and to discover a ground of tradition on which they can stand and grow.”
Aiello, though not an RRC graduate, has been impressed by the graduates she’s met, as well as the Reconstructionist approach to tradition and innovation. She approached the college and requested applications. Her organization is funding the internship.
Nathan Martin, director of student life at RRC, said, “RRC was surprised and delighted with the opportunity to have one of its students immerse themselves in a part of the Italian Jewish community and develop their rabbinic skills. We are grateful for Rabbi Aiello and the community of the Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sud for enabling this internship to take place.”