Tucson’s Lions of Judah explore the Jewish side of Italy

Tucson ‘Lions’ visit the Synagogue of Sienna. Back row (L-R): Deanna Evenchik-Brav, Leslie Glaze, Jane Ash, Ellen Goldstein; third row: Shelly Silverman, Deborah Oseran, Liz Weiner- Schulman, Carol Sears; second row: Fran Katz, Karen Katz, Wendy Sandweiss, Melissa Goldfinger; front row: Karen Faitelson, Judy Berman, Shelley Pozez. Not pictured: Jody Gross. (Courtesy Fran Katz)

The Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Lion of Judah women’s group spent an action-packed nine days visiting the highlights of Italy on a recent tour. Tandy Kippur was instrumental in planning the late-April trip. “Italy was chosen because of the welcoming atmosphere, the beautiful people . . . and the food,” says Kippur, who was unable to accompany the group.  The women’s trips strengthen their knowledge about global Jewish communities and history.

Jody Gross (left) and Jane Ash at the InRome Cooking school

“Every day was something really interesting,” says Jane Ash, one of 16 women on the journey, and a co-chair along with Kippur, Judy Berman and Ellen Goldstein. The itinerary began in Venice, moved on to Florence and Tuscany, ending in Rome. At each destination, the group visited synagogues and convened with Jewish community members to grasp insights into local life.

The travelers agreed that among the highlights of the venture was a private tour of the Jewish Catacombs at Vigna Randanini in Rome. Discovered in 1918, the ancient catacombs date back to the second century and were opened to the public only in 2016. What helped make it special was the guidance of a Jewish Ph.D. in archeology who led the tour, Sarah Procaccia. “Sarah’s family’s been in Rome for 500 years and she could trace her roots to before the Christian era. She knew the Jewish and secular history of everything,” says Ash. The group walked the Jewish Ghetto, home to Europe’s oldest Jewish community. Today, a diverse community of 15,000 Jews lives in Rome.

Berman says the six-hour Vatican tour from a Jewish perspective was also made special by Sarah’s guidance, as she also is a Michelangelo scholar. “She knew so many things about him and about every different pope. It was like an insider’s tour. Unfortunately, it was an Italian holiday and they sold 60,000 tour tickets that day,” Berman adds.

Shelly Silverman and Deborah Oseran in Venice (Melissa Goldfinger)

In contrast, the women had a private, nighttime tour of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. “We were the only ones inside the church when, during the day, there are literally thousands of people in there. We had this gorgeous historical building all to ourselves,” recalls Ash.

Deanna Evenchik -Brav makes ravioli filling with anInRome Cooking instructor (Melissa Goldfinger)

At the InRome Cooking school, the ladies learned the art of pasta making, turning out ravioli and lemon sauce. “We’ll have a follow-up, after-party and recreate the recipes,” says Berman.

“There were new lions on this trip and it was fun to show them our inclusiveness,” says Berman, who, with Goldstein, heads the Lions engagement committee. “Lions are the most inclusive group of women. They don’t have to be Jewish, just to care for the cause of helping people all over the world and in Tucson, and accept our Jewish values and culture.” In the last six months, the committee has recruited three new Lions, two of whom are not Jewish, says Berman.

“I do a lot of other charity work but the Federation and the Lions are my top priority,” adds Berman.

The Lions of Judah are a dynamic philanthropic group of predominantly Jewish women of all ages. It is an international sisterhood of thousands of global activists who care about the Jewish future. Lions of Judah play a vital role in creating social justice, aiding the vulnerable, preserving human dignity and building Jewish identity. Locally, the Lions program is a part of Women’s Philanthropy at the JFSA, and Lions make a contribution of $5,000 or more to the JFSA annual campaign.

The group’s next trip will be in January, to the 2019 International Lion of Judah Conference in Miami, where Deanna Evenchik-Brav will be honored with the Kipnis/Wilson/Friedland Award (see related story.)