my story

Rabbi Barbara Aiello

Yom Kippur with Rabbi Barbara Aiello
Italy’s First Woman Rabbi

Rabbi Barbara Aiello, the first woman rabbi in Italy, begins her 11th year as Italy’s only modern, liberal rabbi. 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 – Back on US soil, Rabbi Barbara Aiello will spend January, February and March 2014 as scholar-in-residence on the Kobernick Campus at Sarasota, Florida. Here you’ll find Rabbi Barbara engaged with Jewish seniors as they re-experience Jewish traditions, learn and study together and deal with the changes and challenges of growing older.

Rabbi Barbara Aiello