PILPUL Why are so many of my friends leaving Italy?

momiglianoBy Anna Momigliano*

First of all, a confession: I Facebook-stalk my friends. Ok, it’s not stalking, because it’s all information they choose to share with people like me. My point is that I often enjoy looking at what’s going on in the lives of people I once used to see almost everyday and whom now – as a working mother of a young child with limited free time – I almost don’t see anyone anymore. You know, former roommates, school friends, kids I used to hang out with at Hashomer Hatzair and so forth.

You’d be surprised by how many of them – roughly, I’d say almost a third – are now living outside Italy. Most of them are smart, well-educated professionals in their early thirties who couldn’t find a decent job here and are now happily living in less recession-stricken countries such as Britain, Germany and the US. What’s even more striking, though, is that even more of my Jewish friends have left Italy – with an educated guess, I’d say almost half.

Reports about European Jews leaving the continent have already made international news, most notably when Newsweek published a cover story on the “Exodus” of European Jews. According to the dominant narrative, Jews are fleeing the continent because of growing anti-Semitism. Honestly, while I don’t rule out that anti-Semitism may have played a role, I am not convinced, at least when it comes to Italy. Here anti-Semitism is not as much of a problem as it is in places like France and my impression is that young Italian Jews are leaving the country for the very same reasons that leads many other young Italians to do the same. In short: there are few opportunities here.

So, you may ask, how do I explain that young Italian Jews are more likely to leave the country than their Catholic counter-parts? I have a personal theory about this. Italian culture is traditionally very family-oriented and risk-averse. People live with their parents until they’re 30 and rarely attend college in another city. This is true both for Catholic and Jews and, of course, makes it more difficult to leave the country. What may be different for Jews, however, is that, since they tend to have more relatives abroad, they are more exposed to other cultures, in which case leaving home is not considered such a bad thing.

*Anna Momigliano is an Italian journalist currently based in Milan.