Boom of Italian Jews emigrating in Israel

It is a compulsion, a necessity, it overrides every Italian stereotype we like so much, the mom, the food, and the parochialism: way more than in the past, the young Jews from the Italian Jewish community decide to board a flight to Tel Aviv. Once there, they go to the welcome office on the first floor of the airport, bringing with them the documents that prove their origins, and they make Aliyah.

That is, they ask for the Israeli citizenship on the spot, which they have a right to receive according to the Law of Return that grants a safe homeland to any Jew. This year, 2014, will be the one with the greatest number of Jews immigrating to Israel from Italy in the last 40 years. Up to last October, there have been 300 new immigrants, a considerable number if you think that it represents around one per cent of the very small community living in Italy.
The Italian Jewish community is the most ancient in the world after the Israeli one, having inhabited the banks of the Tiber even before 70 AD, when the Romans, and that was a tremendous tragedy, destroyed the great Temple in Jerusalem, at that time located where now are the Mosques. The Arch of Titus in Rome depicts in its marble the Jewish slaves parading in honor of the emperor and carrying the Menorah on their shoulders, the seven-branched lampstand symbol of Judaism.

Over the millennia, the Jews always remained proud Romans, even if then they were confined in the ghetto until 1860, and once a year the Pope used to ritually kick and roll some of them around in pitch and feathers. Some people say that the Jews are the only true ancient Romans left.

And now they are leaving, especially from the capital.
As the notorious demographer Sergio della Pergola says, this new migratory wave comes after the other one we saw during the years that followed the Six-Day War, when the enthusiasm for the victory and a renewed pioneering spirit made Zionism soar: so, in 1970 there were 339 immigrants and 309 in 1971. Della Pergola also cites another significant figure: 80 per cent of young Italian Jews took the entry test (which exists also in Italian) for Israeli universities.

The current birth rate of the Italian Jewish community produces around 200 eighteen-year-old a year, and this year around 180 of them, an entire generation, have filled in the forms. Micol Campagnano, 26, is a particularly full example of the reasons why young Jewish people leave Italy and move to Israel. The background of the economic crisis is always present: “Italy has a stale and fug taste, it is a country that lacks perspective and, for this reason, emotion and enthusiasm”. But, above all, Israel lights up the passion that already is in every young person, the hope to give life a full meaning. And so is for Micol: “I have been wanting for years to come back home”.
Many Jews of the Diaspora perceive Israel as the frontier to be protected, the home of the Jewish tradition, where their own people is flourishing again. Micol, like also Federica Manasse, 23 year old, or Daniel, 26, denounce with great regret and irritation that the atmosphere in Italy is heavily critical when it comes to Israel, and that the pro-Palestinian groups are flooding universities with lies and accusations. Federica says she has particularly suffered the often ferocious and irrational accusations (country of apartheid, Israeli people as the Nazis, and so on), the displays of hatred during the operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and even more so because of the background of an unexpected, and even brutal, European anti-Semitism.
Micol studied environmental engineering in “La Sapienza” University, now he is attending a master program at Technion (the Israeli Institute of Technology), and then we will see. All these young people manage to find some temporary job in Israel; they work as waiters or in call-centers that hire Italian speakers, like Tharyn Sermoneta, 22, from Rome, who came in Israel with her boyfriend. Some of the most audacious and idealist come all by themselves and enlist in the Army, like Leonardo Asseni, a bright idealist young guy who participated in the last campaign in Gaza with the Golani Brigade, the most famous and difficult one of the Israeli Defense Forces.

There are different reasons, but in all of them you can see a libertarian and adventurous background. David di Tivoli, interviewed by Ha’aretz, said that he loves the freedom to have a more casual life and dressing style that he found in Israel. As many others, he is part of a wave of cousins and other relatives preceding or following them in Israel.

The younger ones hope their parents will follow them. Federica Manasse thinks that, eventually, her parents will take the big decision as well and join her in Israel. She is lucky, since she is already working in her own field with the fashion designer Yaniv Perry. For Daniel, whose job is in the communication field, is surely somewhat more difficult, since he has to find a way to communicate in a different language than his own. Nevertheless, he made this choice as if he was guided by some instinct of vitality. In addition, the fact that his friends kept on leaving gave him the impression of an impoverished community with no perspective.

The young people that come here often end up living together, in the university or in organizations that help the new immigrants, or they rent a flat together. For a young person leaving the nest, there is nothing better than finding the company of someone who shares his problems and his ideals.

This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (December 06, 2014)


About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.
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