- The Washington Times - Friday, December 29, 2006

ROME — Rosa Moscato left the impoverished but familiar existence of Rome’s Jewish quarter only twice in her life.

As a child she fled to the countryside with her family to escape Nazi persecution, then returned after the war to marry and raise a family in the cramped neighborhood that housed her close-knit community.

But there was little Mrs. Moscato could do when the rundown area experienced a contemporary renaissance, leading to a real-estate boom that attracted wealthy buyers and uprooted longtime residents like herself from the neighborhood where popes once forced Rome’s Jews to live.

Residents and Jewish community officials say evictions and speculative deals are driving out the area’s few remaining Jews, often severing their ties to one of the oldest communities in Europe.

Of more than 13,000 Jews in the Italian capital, fewer than 800 still live in the Ghetto, according to the Jewish community’s archive. After World War II, the area housed 6,000 of the city’s 11,000-strong community.

Mrs. Moscato, 72, can hardly recognize the cobblestoned alleys she grew up on and the 16th century building where she, her husband and four children shared a two-room flat until 1998, when the family was evicted by owners eager to cash in on the area’s growing value.

“It was a hole, it was damp and in winter it rained in, but I raised my kids there,” she recalls of the top-floor flat overlooking Via del Portico D’Ottavia, the Ghetto’s main street. The tiny apartment, which once lacked running water and was served by a makeshift outhouse dangerously poised over the building’s courtyard, now has all the trappings of a trendy loft.

“When I moved into this home I felt sorry, I felt I was treading on history,” says Grazia Anghinelli, a psychologist who refurbished the flat and still welcomes Mrs. Moscato and her husband when they drop by their old haunt. “But what could I do? It was a great deal.”

Property values have tripled or quadrupled over the last decade, making the Ghetto as pricey as other parts of downtown Rome. Apartments in the neighborhood now sell for a minimum of $660 per square foot, although prices can rise higher depending on location, according to Carlo Ventura, a real-estate consultant at Rome’s chamber of commerce.

Elegant restructuring projects and tight security around Jewish community buildings have attracted politicians and TV personalities to the central location. Growing traffic restrictions have also shut down many Jewish-owned textile and crafts shops, and restaurants and Internet sites now cater to tourists visiting the Ghetto’s ancient Roman and Jewish landmarks.

It has not been long since fishmongers and food and clothes vendors displayed their wares in their courtyard and the surrounding streets, as the neighborhood’s men shared steaming pots of coffee before morning prayers at the main synagogue nearby.

Living in the city since the second century B.C., Rome’s Jews were first confined to the Ghetto, then a flood-prone slum on the banks of the Tiber River, in 1555, under Pope Paul IV. Pressured to convert and allowed to hold jobs only as money lenders or rag sellers, the cohesive community continued to live mostly in and around the old Ghetto even after Italy wrested control of Rome from the papacy in 1870.

During World War II, Nazi occupiers sent more than 2,000 of Rome’s Jews to their deaths in extermination camps, although the Vatican helped save most of them. After the war, the Ghetto experienced a first exodus, as the more prosperous families went looking for better housing.

Now, officials say, the property boom is hounding out these vulnerable inhabitants — mostly elderly or unemployed who are often paid by owners to leave or are used as strawmen by speculators to buy valuable public housing.

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