Some of the books were confiscated by the Nazis and luckily retrieved in Frankfurt after the end of the Second World War. Others were rescued from the 1966 Arno’s flood. The nearly 8,000 volumes preserved in UCEI’s Bibliographic Centre have a myriad of fascinating stories to tell. They represent an inestimable heritage for Italian Judaism and national culture, which needs to be protected against the damages of time. This is why UCEI has recently launched the crowdfunding campaign Adotta un libro (Adopt a Book). Through online fundraising, everyone will have a chance to personally contribute to the safeguard of this precious book collection.
“Abandoning those books in the state they are in at the moment would lead to their irretrievable loss,” explains the project presentation. “The preservation of this heritage, which is an integral part of the history of Italian and European Jews, is an action of the utmost importance. It can be neither transferred nor delayed: these books need extensive rescuing.”
“We are talking about antique volumes which date back to the 16th-19th centuries,” explained Gisèle Lévy, head librarian of UCEI’s Bibliographic Centre. A considerable part of them belongs to the Library of the Italian Rabbinical College’s historical collection, which was raided in 1943 and restored by the Allies after the war.
The collection, which include antique and rare books, also contains those which were rescued from mud and water ravaging Florence in 1966. “This collection is made up by different types of works,” said Rome Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, director of the Rabbinical College, “it houses extremely specific books such as the responsa written by Italian Jews; but there are also books of common and educational use, like Torah copies for students; tefillah books and other rabbinical texts.”
The renovation project of the entire collection requires different stages and will kick off in September: it will include drying, disinfecting and dusting them. A number of books will be donated to the people who took part in the campaign, whereas the rest will will be archived again. “Why are these books so important? Because, after all, they make us understand the cultural foundations on which the Jews who studied on these texts formed their thought, actions and faith,” underlined Sofer Amedeo Spagnoletto.
Upon launching the campaign, we must recall a maxim taken from Pirkei Avot (1:2): “The world stands upon three things – Torah, divine service, and acts of kindness.”
Translated by Mattia Stefani and revised by Claudia Azzalini, both students at the Advanced School for Interpreting and Translation of Trieste University and interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities.