LEADERS “Hospitality is a mitzvah”

By Daniel Mosseri

How is the Italian Jewish community reacting to the tragedies of the refugees in the Mediterranean sea?
It is indeed a tragedy and it is happening only a few kilometers from the Italian coasts, taking away the life of innocent people and their hope for freedom. We are living these events with pain and compassion in remembering the victims, and at the same time, we ask everyone to make concrete efforts so that similar events do not happen again. We are also revolted by the people who are taking this opportunity to speculate on these tragedies by expressing their xenophobic anger through the media and in public debates.

Is there a feeling of closeness with the destiny of the refugees based on the history of the Jewish people?
In several scenarios, the tragic events of these past months evoke a horrific past that saw Jews as the first victims. There are strong analogies with other tragedies of the past: ideologies which advocate murder, an atmosphere of terror, entire communities persecuted because of their ethnicity or religion. Today, as back then, all citizens who believe in democracy are called to make their voice heard and not to turn away. Indifference is not an option.

Is the Jewish community making any special efforts to contribute to the care of the refugees?
In the Jewish world hospitality is a sacred value. Our Communities have always worked to help those in situations of hardship. For example, recently the Jewish Community of Florence made available a building they own in order to accommodate refugees from Africa. Solidarity must be a categorical imperative, especially in times of crisis. Furthermore, we entertain very effective relationships with some of the leading voluntary organizations, both religious and secular and this cooperation has allowed us to obtain very concrete results.

What could be done in order to prevent these tragedies from happening?
Cooperation between countries must improve. It is necessary to work towards resolving the crisis in Libya. At the same time, human traffickers and their disgusting exploitation of innocents’ life must be handled with an iron hand. Italy cannot be left alone in such a dramatic situation.

What should European leaders do to help prevent these tragedies?
They should become more aware of the fact that this is a matter that concerns everyone, nobody excluded. The Mediterranean Sea is the sea of Europe, and the cradle of civilization. We have the moral obligation to work hard in order to prevent more tears from being and to render the area safe again.

Italy is the country of the EU which receives the highest number of refugees from Africa. What is the effect on the Jewish community?
There is no effect. We look at these people with deep respect and compassion.

Is it necessary to reform the right of asylum law and make it easier to be granted?
It could be a possible way of responding. However, it is the political leaders’ responsibility to come up with effective proposals. But we have to remember that applying the norms that already exist and using them in an effective way would already be a good start.

The economic situation in Italy is still not good. It is often hard to focus on tolerance in times of crisis. How is the Jewish community promoting the values of hospitality and respect towards others, working on its own or cooperating with other religious organizations, for example, the Community of Sant’Egidio?

Generally, the initiatives undertaken by the Jewish Community, both local and national, purely cultural or not, are aimed at spreading knowledge not only of the unique characteristics of Jewish life, but also of the universal values that it embraces.
In this perspective, for instance, the themes of integration and dialogue are at the core of several projects developed in Italian schools, also thanks to the excellent work of the Minister of Education Stefania Giannini. One of these projects begins on the Holocaust Memorial Day and continues all year long. Relations with other religious groups are also excellent and we often organize joint initiatives such as with the moderate Muslim leaders.
Dialogue and integration are subjects often dealt with in the many cultural festivals, from Jewish and the City in Milan to Balagan Cafè in Florence, from Lech Lechà in Apulia to Nessiah in Pisa, to mention only a few. Finally the European Day of Jewish Culture this year will focus on the concept of “bridges”, both from an internal and external perspective. The Italian Jewish world is small but very active and engaged.

(Jüdische Allgemeine Wochenzeitung, 23. April 2015)