Shabbat Shalom - Report from Jewish Ghetto of Rome

Friday, 15 April 2011

by Fabio Palumbo (text) & Marco Palladino (photos) for Shoot4Change (english translation: Wendy J. Carrell) - TESTO IN ITALIANO >>

A large part of the Jewish community in Rome is gathered between Via Portico D’Ottavia and Piazza delle Cinque Scole. I’m surrounded by a fast exchange of words, hugs, pats on the back and only a handful of smiles here and there. It’s been four days since the Freedom Flotilla massacre…


In the Ghetto you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. The presence of so many police cars and so many deployed policemen right in front of the Synagogue underlines the tensions the neighbourhood has been going through in these last few days. The idea was to document how those who have been marginalized by society live in this part of Rome. The beggars, the poorest, those who still live the real Ghetto lifestyle. But we are confronted, and must deal with a different reality.
When trying to take a picture, the faces of the people on the streets quickly become grim. We are immediately approached by a guy who says he is responsible for the internal security of the Community and orders us politely not to take photos above the neck-line. We are treated as if we were pointing with guns, not cameras.
Today, bar the Jewish community, the “Ghetto” neighbourhood is made up of celebrities, VIP and the wealthy. They live in penthouses worth millions and enjoy an intense nightlife. But there is also another side, the one no one sees. The beggars.
A short walk from where we are we meet Enzo Condello, a wood painter. He paints tables, cubes, scraps of carpentry, anything, provided it’s made of wood. He exhibits his works in front of the church of Santa Caterina, in Via dei Funari, on the corner of Via Caetani, another place that embodies infamous pages of this country’s history. Beautiful! Enzo yells at the tourists passing by, pointing at his paintings. All briefly peer sideways, then they leave quickly. On the same street, at number 16, many years ago Enzo had shop. He was thrown out by force. Beaten by someone he had never seen before. When I ask him what it’s like living in the “Ghetto” he grimaces, then softly says that here people don’t treat him well but he goes on to tell me that he won’t give up, he will endure.  Via dei Funari is his world. The cardboard house, the office made up of planks and nails, the paintings on display.
Turning the corner you bump into Jeremiah. With the eyes and the beard of a Prophet he usually wears nothing on his feet but heavy woolen socks. He often stops off in front of the Old Furnace, without causing any inconvenience he hopes to get something, even if it’s just a piece of pizza. At first sight he seems just one of many, but if you stop to watch for a while you cannot help but recognize a certain, unique style. A charismatic and dignified manner. When he’s not brutally chased away he lives in a cardboard house not far from there. He’s an old-school beggar, at most he’ll mutter something, but never a complete sentence. Words simply won’t come out, instead they remain stuck in his throat. He’ll reach out to you only after you’ve thrown him a few coins from your pocket, never beforehand. If you ask him something he won’t answer, he’ll just toddle off, wrapped in his dark and dirty overcoat that goes right down to his ankles, despite the season. Where the cold doesn’t get to neither does the heat is the motto of many homeless. He slips of to Piazza Mattei like a ghost filled with fear and unspoken words.
Franco is in via Sant’Ambrogio. He has a house. A beggar yes, but with a house over his head. He lives on the outskirts of the city but his days are spent here. He tells us that the people here in the “Ghetto” are generous. He doesn’t like having his picture taken, but, after a lot of persuasion he grants us one shot. Once he worked cash-in-hand for pony express, but he was fired after a scooter accident, and even today he’s forced to move around on crutches. Franco has a white beard, thick glasses and a hat that’s at least two sizes too small. He doesn’t stop to take a break as he talks, but continues to limp up and down the neighbourhood. He sticks his head in the bookshop “The Louvre”, in via della Reginella, an antique bookshop with an astonishing  gallery boasting over thirty thousand photos, most of which are by unknown authors. He even manages to get some money from there, only to set off again.
In front of the Portico D’Ottavia, hidden between the cars and trash, lives the most famous homeless of the whole “Ghetto”. She’s always been here, amongst her impregnable fortress of bags, carts, umbrellas and various odds and ends. She too never really speaks, her name is a mystery. There are those who dare to give her one, calling her Bianca, or White, but maybe that’s just because of her snowflake like hair. She too is difficult, and if you try to photograph her face ridden with signs from her past she’ll glare at you grimly. She lies sprawled on a white chair just a few steps away from the Synagogue, strategically this is a great spot, here she can see everything and few can see her.
The latter is Alvaro. Whilst he begs he  does not seem homeless. For starters he is decently dressed. He has a three day beard and a freshly washed face every morning. He is either a son of this economic crisis, or perhaps the father of the previous one. He’s wearing a short sleeved checkered shirt, just like the tablecloths of the Sora Margherita, the trattoria with the best homemade food in the “Ghetto”, with its magnificent artichokes, cooked Jewish style. He’s got such lively eyes. I asked him what it’s like to live in the Ghetto as a beggar. He replied that he does not like the Jews because they act as if they were in charge of the world. He starts talking about the Turkish ship, the victims. He curses the world and beyond. Although he looks like he wants to go on, instead he puts his hand on his mouth and changes direction. For a moment I follow him, but he makes it clear he wants to be left alone. He disappears amidst the chaos of Via Arenula.
The sun is setting on the murky waters of the Tiber. Just the right light to take some shots of the Synagogue. Within a split second two plainclothes policemen approach me with badges ready. Who you are, what are you doing? Documents, ID etc. It’s time to leave.
The light on the Synagogue is getting more beautiful by the second, I could really get some greats shots. But not here, not in the Ghetto, not in this small homegrown state of Israel.
© fabio palumbo / w.j. carrell – all rights reserved

Contact Form


Email *

Message *