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A thirty-year long embrace

· An exhibition recalls John Paul II's historic meeting with Elio Toaff, Chief Rabbi of Rome, at the Synagogue ·

“Every time that he thought of that embrace, he did so with great pride and satisfaction”: with these words Lia Toaff recalls the fascinating stories of her grandfather Elio, the Chief Rabbi of Rome, who on 13 April 1986, met with John Paul II at the Synagogue. Sealed with an embrace, it was a meeting that went down in history. “My grandfather”, Lia recalls, “smiled at the thought of how tense and excited he was in anticipation of that meeting. But after that embrace the nerves went away and he emphasized that he immediately felt much calmer.” The meeting reflected the “great courage of the two”, who firmly believed in dialogue between Catholics and Jews.

Thirty years after that event, and one year after Elio Toaff's death (19 April), an exhibition, curated by his granddaughter, has been arranged in the Jewish Museum of Rome and will be open until 14 July. The presentation of the initiative, which was held on Wednesday, 13 April, was attended by Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity; Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of Rome; Msgr Norbert Hofmann, Secretary of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, and Ruth Dureghello, President of Rome's Jewish Community, among others. The exhibition reiterates, through photographs and video footage, the most striking images of that event: the embrace, the exchanging of gifts and the private meeting. It also includes a picture from February 1981, when Toaff decided to go and greet John Paul II during his visit to San Carlo ai Catinari. Lia always recalls how, on that spontaneous and simple occasion, Toaff understood that they were “wise” times for the Pope to visit the Synagogue. That intuition would later prove to be true.

The exhibition also links the joint initiative of Rome's Jewish community and the Italian Post Office, who are committed to supporting the activities of the Jewish Museum for the next two years.

Some of the exhibition's highlights include the special postmark that was created by the Italian Post Office, based on the Georges de Canino design, on the occasion of the Pope's visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome, and a charcoal drawing by Eva Fischer portraying the historic embrace. 

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