Abraham B. Yehoshua’s passion for Italy has ancient roots. The one who made him more familiar with it was, among others, a great friend: Carlo Andrea Mortara, an economist and advisor to various ministers, who was connected to him by a common militancy in Jewish institutions. Yehoshua was a Secretary General in Paris who worked for the World Union of Jewish Students, a post he held from 1963 to 1967. Mortara was the advisor to the Federazione Giovanile Ebraica d’Italia Fgei (Jewish youth federation of Italy), founded in 1948 to restart after the horror of war and persecution. “We were always delighted to welcome him to our home in Milan. We would talk about many topics, specifically Judaism and identity. At that time, he was fairly critical of the Diaspora Jews, as he believed that their place could be nowhere but in Israel. Over time, I think his opinion has softened”, Mortara tells to Pagine Ebraiche. Even then, above all, “there was a glimpse of an exceptional writing ability, an out-of-the-ordinary talent.”
There would be several anecdotes to tell. One of them concerns Florence, another city to which the writer was very attached. “Few people know it, perhaps none, as he was proverbially reserved, but it was in Florence that he lived through the dramatic experience of the flood. He was there on an assignment of the World Union of Jewish Students. He was startled by the events and forced to go back”. Soon he was rescued by Mortara coming from Milan and leading a group of students from the University of Milan in action as “mud angels”. An intense but also logistically formative experience, “to set up, just a few months later, a group of volunteers who rushed to Israel when the Six-Day War broke out.
Mortara is shaken by Yehoshua’s passing. “We had remained very close friends, even from a distance. Every meeting was a celebration and, as it happens to friendships of youth, the impression as we greeted and hugged again was that we had left each other just the day before. He will be missed, both as a writer and as a man.”
(Photo by Marco Caselli Nirmal)
Translation by Martina Bandini, revised by Maria Cianciuolo, students at the Secondary School of Modern Languages for Interpreters and Translators of the University of Trieste, interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities – Pagine Ebraiche.