The vice-president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities Giulio Disegni delivered the following speech before the general assembly of the World Jewish Congress, which took place in Buenos Aires last week.
The history of the Jews of Italy spans more than two thousand years. The Jewish presence in Italy dates to the pre-Christian Roman period and has continued, despite the great influence of Catholic Church on the country.
We have currently 21 Jewish communities from north to south and every one has a special history for its’ origins, traditions and culture. Jewish life continues with many projects in education, Jewish schools, kashrut, the fight against anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Furthermore we continue to produce Jewish culture.
Today I want talk to you about culture and specifically Italian Jewish culture, with two very significant examples.
It is well known that one of the more interesting and attractive community’s not only in our country, but in the world is Venice, with its’ fantastic secular history.
On next March 29 there will be a very important event in Venice: the celebration of the 500 years since the creation of the Ghetto to confine the Jews of Venice. Thus began a long period of segregation and separation from the rest of the Christian population. The commemoration will remind the world how the Jewish community lived segregated and closed in a special area of the city. The segregation in the Ghetto (a Venetian word) lasted a long time and was the first of a long series of similar ghettos created in the world.
The event of March 29 is organized by the Jewish community of Venice, in collaboration with the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI) with the support of the World Jewish Congress and the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage (AEPJ).
Both UCEI and WJC presidents, Renzo Gattegna and Ronald Lauder, will take part in the ceremony.
Starting from March there will be conferences, exhibitions, and book presentations to mark the 500th anniversary of the creation of the Ghetto and this will continue throughout 2016.
Therefore, we want invite every one of you to come to Venice during this special year.
We also want to tell you that a sefer Torah from medieval Italy has recently been identified as what is believed to be the oldest one still ‘halachically’ acceptable for use. Following the conclusion of testing and restoration, the Torah scroll was returned to the Biella Synagogue, in Piedmont, in northern Italy, where it had been kept for centuries, under the auspices of the Jewish community of Vercelli.
Rabbi Amedeo Spagnoletto, a Rome-based sofer who is an expert in restoring antique sifrei Torah, particularly of Italian origin, was called to examine the Torah scrolls belonging to the community of Vercelli a few years ago, when he first came upon this unique find. The Sefer Torà, now completely restored, is dated from around 1250 and we suppose is perhaps the oldest in the world, in use in a Community.
It represents yet another occasion for everyone to visit Piedmont with its’ important old Synagogues.
A final piece of news from our country that we think it is very important is that the president of the Chamber of Deputies of Italy released thousand of documents relating to crimes committed by the Nazis and Fascists in Italy during the Second World War. Published in the historical archives of the Chamber website, the material includes some significant revelations acquired by a parliamentary committee in charge of the so-called “armadio della vergogna” (the armoire of shame), a secret cabinet discovered in 1994 which contained an archive of 695 files documenting what happened during those months on Italian soil.