CULTURE – The book and the books, a history of Jewish Italy

“Civil wars among the Jews were never fought with the sword, but with the pen,” Abraham B. Yehoshua argued years ago in Ferrara. During the conference “Am Ha Sefer – The People of the book. Readers and bibliophiles in Jewish Italy between the 17th and 20th centuries”, held in Rome at the National Library of Italian Judaism, Tullia Zevi flipped through many pages, focusing on 300 extremely eventful years: from the ghettos to freedom, from the Nazi-fascist persecution to the reconstruction from the rubble. Importance was given to the role played by Jewish patriots, intellectuals, and bibliophiles in the Emancipation era, but also to the individual treasures that should be known and valued: from the library of Ugo and Olga Levi in Venice to that of Marco Besso in Rome. And then, among many, the Umberto Saba antique bookstore in the centre of Trieste, “the woeful black cavern” that the poet acquired in 1919 and which constituted for him, during difficult years, “a refuge sheltered from the loudspeakers” of fascism. “A high-level conference, which will be followed by the publication of the proceedings”, the president of the Jewish Cultural Heritage Foundation in Italy, Dario Disegni, underlined in his introductory speech. Disegni focused on the Foundation’s many commitments, for example, the I-Tal-Ya Books project for the census of the Italian Jewish book heritage that as of today amounts to tens of thousands of volumes catalogued in synergy with national and international partners.
These books are also the pivot of the National Library of Italian Judaism, the former Ucei Bibliographic Centre, whose management was entrusted to the Foundation itself in 2021. It was a choice “that marked a change of pace, with the aim of developing a space that must increasingly become a popular hub of research and studies,” Disegni said.
The president of the Ucei, Noemi Di Segni expressed her strong appreciation for the initiative as she shared some reflections focused on current events at the opening. Referring to the book par excellence, the Torah, she particularly recalled how the act of reading “is not only relaxation, but also action,” a necessary premise to leave a conscious trace in the world. In this sense, the pages of the Torah “transmit precepts that also concern morality, including the way in which a war and a defence action are to be conducted.”

Translated by Annadora Zuanel and revised by Martina Bandini, students at the Advanced School for Interpreters and Translators of the University of Trieste, interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities – Pagine Ebraiche.