By Alberto Cavaglion*
In my long and tortuous career as a teacher, the years that helped me grow the most were those spent at “Le Vallette” prison, where I held a class for the inmates that the professional school where I taught had introduced. Those were three years which, I believe, gave me much more than what I would and should have given. Since then, I have been following with particular sensitivity all that concerns prison life, and I get outraged whenever I hear any politician wishing for somebody to “rot in jail”. I regret not keeping my students’ essays: it was the time of the pentiti’s Act we haveheard a lot about lately.The same days where I happened to read the usual, empty arguments about the justicialist propaganda, the latest, extraordinary work by Liana Elda Funaro fell into my hands: “Confraternite e Compagnie Ebraiche nel Ghetto di Firenze” (Jewish Brotherhoods and Companies in Florence’s Ghetto), published by Angelo Pontecorboli, with introduction by Monica Miniati. Funaro’s archival research gives always surprising results and each of her works is a surprise because it broadens our research perspective. Among thevarious brotherhoods analysed in the book, beside the notorious Hesed Veemet (Mercy and Charity) a lot is said about the less famous society of Mattir Assurim, devoted to the buy-back of imprisoned debtors. The number of unpublished documents brought to light in this short but thick book is astonishing. I deem it a new pioneeristic exploration of at least three centuries of Jewish life in Florence.“With calm and benefit for poor people” says the tag-line. Tied to Jewish ethics’ cult and founding precept, assistance to the needy aimed to ensure justice for the poor, the stranger, the orphan and the widow. What distinguishes this moral principle is that aid came not as a gift, but in the name of a restorative justice: “We are in the law field rather that in the faith’s one”, writes Funaro. So the specific significance of Mattir Assurim, founded in 1701, which “offered decisive aid combined with Massari’s negotiations with the judges assigned to prisons in Florence”. The society would be in place up until early Twentieth Century, so until the time where
scientific philanthropy showed for inmates and prison life a sensitivity which honors Judaism’s traditions, in and out community life.I fear that we are losing memory of that humanitarian sensitivity.
Translated by Silvia Bozzo and revised by Antonella Losavio, students at the Advanced School for Interpreters and Translators of Trieste University, interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities.