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Judaism explained to youngsters, 16 sheets against antisemitic prejudice

“Knowledge is crucial to fight against prejudices that through antisemitic and hatred actions have influenced, and unfortunately, still influence today’s history. This is why we want to improve a mutual understanding in our nation”. So Secretary general of the Italian Episcopal Conference Stefano Russo, about a significant initiative organized by the representatives of the Catholic world stimulated by the UCEI: the creation of 16 sheets updating school textbooks, so as to explain clearly and extensively what Judaism is.
“A project conceived long ago”, highlights UCEI councilor for educational policies Livia Ottolenghi, called to outline the huge potential of this project during the 61st edition of the Colloqui Ebraico – Cristiani (Jewish – Christian Conversations). The conference, held in Camaldoli at the beginning of December, focuses, among other things, on the assumption that “Antisemitism and the teaching of disdain are still present today, as well as the sometimes-unwitting opinions that spread a distorted relationship between Judaism and Christianism”.
Many critical factors remain, starting from textbooks, especially history and geography ones, used in both private and public schools. “Very often – explains Ottolenghi – Judaism is mentioned for the first time among the ancient civilizations disappeared millennia ago. Jews reappear only in the 20th century, when talking about events like the Second World War and the Shoah. We do not get to know what happens between these two moments”. A cultural violation that can be seen even when tracing today’s geographical boundaries of the Israeli State, often manipulated and misrepresented. Instrumentalization and distortion, also in this case, are on the agenda.
The institutions of Italian Judaism strongly promoted a dialogue with the Italian Episcopal Conference and the Catholic world that deals with education and dissemination of values. “Everyone made themselves fully available: an important sign of attention”, acknowledges Ottolenghi, recalling some ventures that allowed this project to be shaped over time. Among others, a seminar in 2019 for teachers and educators aiming to transmit “a proper knowledge of the key elements of Judaism and Christianity”.
The creation of these 16 sheets for schools involved the work of a committee formed by both Jewish rabbi Roberto Della Rocca, Marco Cassuto Morselli, Sonia Brunetti and Ottolenghi herself, and Catholic Father Giuliano Savina, Father Daniele Saottini, Father Angelo Garofalo, and Natascia Danieli. The first eight sheets are dedicated to festivities, while the others examine “all the basic concepts that, misinterpreted, have often fueled a stigma”, such as the locution “Popolo Eletto” (Chosen People), as pointed out by the UCEI assessor.
Dedicated to the high school education “where text books are more complex”, the sheets are addressed to editors and authors. Ottolenghi is confident that they will be taken into consideration: “There are many possibilities to stand out, since every year four or five new text books come out and also already published text books are regularly revised. Our collective effort reinforces the purpose”.
This proactive spirit characterized this edition of the Colloqui of Camaldoli. The event took place on the 60th anniversary of the meeting between the French historian Jules Isaac and Pope John XXIII, that marked a turning point also in the relationships between Jews and Christians. A meeting, as reminded, “at the threshold of the second Vatican Council that led to the promulgation of Nostra Aetate and represented, for the Catholic Church and not only, a new step towards communication”.

Translated by Alice Pugliese, student at the Advanced School for Interpreters and Translators of the University of Trieste, intern at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities.