There is a town snuggled into the cool green hills of southern Italy called Serrastretta. Here, the fiery cherubs of stress and worry have been bypassed, and I am living this summer in a land to the west of east of Eden. Before I tell you how I ended up here, I must first tell you about where I am.
In Serrastretta, the streams flow above and below ground, pooling in the fountain below. It is advised to bottle one’s own fresh water from the fountain, although one could just as easily scoop some out of a stream or let modern plumbing deliver it to your home.
In Serrastretta, breakfast is a peach, a pear, some cherries, and a cappuccino. Lunch is a handful of olives, some cheese, and a slice of bread. And dinner is a three hour celebration of life.
In Serrastretta, all the children are above average. They play in the streets without hovering helicopter parents, and they roam the hills with the freedom to explore and adventure. As we walk past, they cheerfully call out ‘caio!’ as they go about their games.
In Serrastretta, the birds gleefully dart and dance through the air like hassids basking in divine glory. Bees hop from flower to flower, spreading their joy from cherry tree to rose bush and beyond. Young kittens play with the tassels of tallises, and one never knows when a car ride will be delayed by a sun bathing wild boar.
In Serrastretta, the windmills on a hilltop lazily sway with the breeze, the solar panels collect graceful sunshine, and my biggest concern is that my mug of tea is slightly beyond my reach as I rock back and forth in a handmade rocking chair. In Serrastretta, they weave wicker chairs whose simplicity and charm provide more comfort than any lazyboy.
How did I get here? This is a question I ask in almost every moment. I am here because Rabbi Barbara Aiello wanted a rabbinic assistant for the summer. She is here because this is the village her ancestors founded several hundred years ago as they escaped the conquering Spaniards and their dreaded inquisition. Five Jewish families trekked into the hills and created a refuge. They converted to Catholicism, built a church, and to anybody who followed the one winding road into town, these residents were Catholics. Rabbi Aiello’s ancestors were among these folks (she has over 70 cousins in these hills), and after growing up in Pittsburgh, she decided to return to her people. In the last few decades, more and more Serrastrettans are openly returning to Judaism, and it is quite common for an elderly person to confess to their offspring on their deathbed that they are Jewish. Their Judaism is enthused by visiting Jews who venture into the hills for destination life cycle events. And we all converge on the cozy synagogue above which I live.
There are many stories to tell, but they are for another day. Now it is time to go play with two ten week old kittens and watch Italia play Sweden in the Euro Cup. Until next time, arrivederce.