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MOTHER TONGUE OUTSIDE FATHERLAND

CONTEMPORARY ITALOPHONE WRITERS IN ISRAEL 
A PROJECT BY PROF. C. ROSSI, UNIVERSITY OF ZURICH, IN COLLABORATION WITH PROF. A. SALAH, UNIVERSITY OF JERUSALEM

 

Italian is the second most used language in the commercial world, and it has leapt to fourth place in terms of the most-studied languages worldwide. The number of foreigners studying it has risen to 2,233,373 in the 2015/16 academic year - up from 1,700,000 the previous year.

As opposed to what happened to English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish, that were languages of conquest and Imperialism, Italian has a history of migration, widely studied at a linguistic and cultural level.

The present research project aims to investigate the historical and cultural reasons that not only led the Italian language to resist, metamorphosing into a different "other" language and culture, in border areas such as Switzerland (where, as one of the four national languages, Italian is spoken by approximately 8.1 percent of the country's population, mainly in the cantons of Ticino and Graubünden), Croatia (where Dalmatian Italians are the historical Italian national minority), Slovenia (where Italian is an officially recognized minority language), but above all it will investigate a phenomenon little known to those who are interested primarily in Italian literature outside Italy: the phenomenon of the Italophone Israeli writers.

Towards the end of the 20th century the Italian literature created outside Italy finally started to receive proper attention, because research began to focus on the socio-cultural analysis of the different forms of internal and external post-colonialism. The present research project and the relating teaching activities of Prof. Rossi in Jerusalem aim to investigate the historical and cultural reasons that not only led the Italian language to resist, metamorphosing into a different "other" language and culture, in border areas such as Switzerland (where, as one of the four national languages, Italian is spoken by approximately 8.1 percent of the country's population, mainly in the cantons of Ticino and Graubünden), but above all it will investigate a phenomenon little known to those who are interest-ed primarily in Italian literature outside Fatherland. Nevertheless, research still misses to report an undoubtedly outstanding region of the production of Italian literature outside Italy, i.e. Israel.

Italian Literature written in Israel

 

There were about 15,000 Italians citizens in Israel in 2016 for an enlarged total (including non-citizens and members of the respective families) of 25-30,000 people and the immigration from Italy is still increasing.

Most part of the Italkìm resides in Tel Aviv metropolitan area, but the major representative center of the community is in Jerusalem. Here, in Rehov Hillel, there is the Italian synagogue, a real jewel.

In 1951, this synagogue (built in 1701) was shipped from the town of Conegliano Veneto to Israel. Initially, the Italian Jewish community conducted prayers there on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays, while, during the rest of the week, the building was used for the pupils of the prestigious Ma‘aleh School (from 1950 till 1967). These pupils witnessed the repairs and restoration of the original structure, which were carried out by master craftsmen, some of whom

came from Italy especially for this purpose. The work took a full year to complete. Today, the synagogue serves the Italian Jewish community — constituting the core of its activities — as well as the Italian Jewish Museum. This event was a formative step in the history of Jerusalem, constituting a milestone in the annals of Jerusalem’s Italian Jewish community. This is an esteemed and educated community, but also discreet and respectable.

In 2007 a book by Ariel Toaff (Pasque di sangue, Il Mulino) became the source of lengthy and tense debates as soon as it came out, in Italy at first, and soon internationally. In the first two months alone, more than 150 articles appeared in the most important Italian, Israeli, American, and even French newspapers. In view of this extraordinary public debate, Toaff’s work and the public reaction to it should be of interest for this research.

Since the ending of the XVIII century and the beginning of the Zionist movement, the literary use of Italian language in the Ottoman Palestine and under the British mandate from 1948 in the State of Israel, has mainly concerned two categories of people, that is to say: writers with Italian roots, who temporary or definitively emigrated in Israel, and Israel authors of various provenance.

For centuries the Holy Land has been, in fact, a pilgrimage destination and travel for numerous Jews from the Italian peninsula, some of whom remained there permanently, creating study centres and commercial emporia linked with Italy by tradition, language and cultural affinities[1]. It was mostly and the start of the ‘20s of the XIX century, however, that a Jewish community came to life in Israel, an event which reached its climax with the establishment of some agricultural colonies of “italqim”, such as Girat Brenner in 1928 and Netzer Sereni in 1948. The colonies then aggregated themselves around two synagogues of Italian rituals, both still active today, one in the city of Jerusalem, incorporated with the Museo di Arte Ebraica Italiana entitled to Umberto Nahon, and the other in Tel Aviv[2].

Italian Jewish citizens had an extremely preeminent role in the Italian cultural associationism, as well as in the promulgation of studies concerning Italian language through the local branches of the Dante Alighieri’s Society and in the translation of the Jewish literature in Italian, from the pioneers such as Menahem Artom (1916-1992), Gaio Sciloni and Giorgio Romano, to the most recent ones like Miriam Padovani, Alessandra Shomroni, Claudia Rosenzweig and Ariel Rathaus[3]. Even though the contribute of Italian Judaism to the construction of Israel was widely studied[4], a lot of the intellectual production of all who continued to use the Italian language, even after living for so long in a Jewish-speaking country, remains wrapped in the shadows.

A good part of the work by the Florentine Zionist Alfonso Pacifici (1889-1983), the Biblicist and Semitist Umberto Cassuto (1883-1951), professor at the Jewish University of Jerusalem, and their students and colleagues Elia Samuele Artom (1887-1985), Augusto Segre (1915-) and many others, was drafted and published in Italian in Israel by appropriate publishing houses, such as Taoz, making the country a place of crucial importance for the disclosure of Jewish culture even for all of those who remained in Italy.

The journalistic activity of some local authors who wrote for Italian newspapers published in Israel, some of informative nature like Kol ha-Italkim [La voce degli italiani], directed by Miriam Toaff Della Pergola, others more academic, for instance the French-Italian Madregoth, founded in 1940 by Dante Lattes and Attilio Milano, and Italia: Studi e ricerche sulla staria, la cultura e la letteratura degli ebrei d’Italia, directed by Roberto Bonfil, act as an example of this phenomenon to which memoires need to be mentioned, with the publication of diaries, epistles and autobiographies of “italqim”, such as Israel De Benedetti, Bruno Di Cori, David Cassuto, Sergio Della Pergola, Roberto Bachi, often in bilingual versions (Italian and Jewish)[5], and poetry, with authors like Ariel Rathaus (1949-) and Ariel Viterbo (1965-).

The connection between Italian language and members of the clery, of Italian or Arabic roots, who came from various Christian churches in the State of Israel, is a complete separate chapter. Despite family connections, Italy has always had a strong influence on the Israeli culture, both for the impact that the wars of the Renaissance had on the making of the Zionist movement and for the many similarities between the rebirth of the Jewish language during the wars of independence in Israel throughout the XX century.

The father of the revisionist movement, Vladimir Zeev Jabotinsky (1880-1940), not only lived for a long period of time in Italy, but also wrote many literary and politic essays in Italian, which were published on the Nuova Antologia of Florence, and engaged himself in poetry as well[6]. The writer Leah Goldberg (1911-1970), apart from her translations in Jewish of Petrarca and Dante, also had an important role in the development of an Italian department in the Jewish University of Jerusalem and dedicated herself to short literary compositions in Italian. A less known fact about the biography of the poet Nathan Zach (1930-) lies in his relationship with Italian, the language of his mother, and with German, his father’s mother-tongue; two factors that deeply influenced his poetic work in Jewish. Last but certainly not least, is the Italian that appears in some Israeli movies, such as Sheleg BeAugust by Hagay Levy in 1993 or Haitalkim Baim by Eyal Halfon in 1996, often directed by filmmakers of Italian origins, like Gady Castel (Castelbolognese) and Levy himself. Moreover, the Italian history, influenced by Judaism or not, hasn’t been a subject used for many documentaries, however there are some exceptions, for instance The Children of Villa Emma, by Nissim Dayan (1980); Return to the Jewish Ghetto of Venice, by Gady Castel (1980); Nebuchadnezzar in Caesarea, by Ram Loevy (1980); Italy: Salomone Rossi – Between Worlds and Exploring the Angst of Daniel Oren by Asher Tlalim (1993); In the Name of the Duce by Amos Gitai (1994).

 

 

[1] Attilio Milano, Storia degli ebrei nel Levante (Firenze: Casa editrice Israel, 1949).

[2] Arturo Marzano, Una terra per rinascere. Gli ebrei italiani e l'emigrazione in Palestina prima della guerra (1920-1940) (Bologna: Marietti, 2003).

[3] Giorgio Romano, Ebrei nella letteratura (Roma: Carucci,1979), particularly fourth and fifth chapter.

[4] Articles included in the Conference of Jerusalem 16th-17th May 2011, Italia – Israele: gli ultimi centocinquanta anni (Milano: Fondazione del Corriere della Sera, 2012).

[5] Un esempio tra tutti Brunco di Cori, Vi porterò sulle ali delle aquile (Roma: Lamed, 1998) e Va-Esa Etkhem Al Kanfei Nesharim (Hod Ha-Sharon, Ahital, 2004).

[6] A list of all the Italian works by Zeev Jabotinsky in Mina Graur, The Writings of Ze'ev Jabotinsky - A Bibliography. 1897-1940 (Jerusalem: Bialik, 2007) (in jewish).

Letteratura italiana prodotta in Israele

 

A partire dalla fine dell’Ottocento e in concomitanza con la nascita del movimento sionista, l’uso della lingua italiana a fini di espressione letteraria, nella Palestina ottomana e sotto mandato britannico prima e dal 1948 in poi nello Stato di Israele, ha riguardato principalmente due categorie di persone: scrittori di origine italiana, residenti temporanei o definitivamente emigrati in Israele, e autori israeliani di diverse estrazioni.

La Terra Santa è stata infatti per secoli meta di pellegrinaggio e di viaggio per numerosi ebrei provenienti dalla penisola italiana, alcuni dei quali vi si stabilirono in modo permanente creando centri di studi e empori commerciali all’Italia legati per tradizione, lingua e affinità culturali.[1] Tuttavia è soprattutto a partire dagli anni venti del Novecento che si costituisce una comunità di ebrei italiani in Israele culminata con la fondazione di alcune colonie agricole di “italqim”, quali Givat Brenner nel 1928 e Netzer Sereni nel 1948, e poi aggregatasi intorno a due sinagoghe di rito italiano tuttora funzionanti, a Gerusalemme, con l’annesso Museo di Arte Ebraica Italiana intitolato a Umberto Nahon, e a Tel Aviv.[2] Ebrei italiani cittadini di Israele hanno avuto un ruolo preminente nell’associazionismo culturale italiano, nella diffusione dello studio della lingua italiana attraverso le filiali locali della società Dante Alighieri, e nella traduzione della letteratura ebraica in italiano, dai pionieri come Menahem Artom (1916-1992), Gaio Sciloni e Giorgio Romano, sino ai più recenti Miriam Padovani, Alessandra Shomroni, Claudia Rosenzweig, o ancora Ariel Rathaus.[3] Per quanto il contributo dell’ebraismo italiano alla costruzione di Israele è stato ampiamente studiato,[4] nell’ombra è però rimasta molta della produzione intellettuale di coloro che hanno continuato a servirsi della lingua italiana pur essendosi integrati alla vita di un paese in cui l’ebraico era lo strumento principale di comunicazione. Buona parte dell’opera del sionista religioso fiorentino Alfonso Pacifici (1889–1983), dell’illustre biblista e semitista, Umberto Cassuto (1883–1951), professore all’università ebraica di Gerusalemme, e dei loro allievi o colleghi quali Elia Samuele Artom (1887-1985), Augusto Segre (1915-) e tanti altri ancora fu redatta e pubblicata in italiano in Israele, da apposite case editrici, come la Taoz, facendo diventare il paese un centro di determinante importanza nella divulgazione della cultura ebraica anche tra gli ebrei rimasti in Italia. L’attività giornalistica di diverse personalità del mondo della cultura locale per testate in italiano pubblicate in Israele, alcune di carattere informativo come Kol ha-Italkim [La voce degli italiani], diretta da Miriam Toaff Della Pergola, altre di carattere accademico, come la rivista bilingue in francese e italiano Madregoth, fondata nel 1940 da Dante Lattes e Attilio Milano, e Italia: Studi e ricerche sulla storia, la cultura e la letteratura degli ebrei d’Italia, diretta da Roberto Bonfil, costituisce la parte più visibile di questo fenomeno a cui va aggiunta anche la memorialistica, con la pubblicazione di diari, epistolari, testimonianze e autobiografie di “italqim” come Israel De Benedetti, Bruno Di Cori, David Cassuto, Sergio Della Pergola, Roberto Bachi, molto spesso in versioni bilingui italiane ed ebraiche,[5] senza dimenticare la poesia, con autori come Ariel Rathaus (1949-) e Ariel Viterbo (1965-).  Un capitolo a se stante è infine quello del rapporto con la lingua italiana e con la scrittura di membri del clero, originari dall’Italia o arabi, di varie chiese cristiane residenti entro gli attuali confini dello Stato di Israele.

Ma anche a prescindere da un legame familiare diretto, l’Italia ha esercitato una forte influenza sulla cultura israeliana, sia per l’impatto che le guerre risorgimentali hanno avuto nella formazione del sionismo nelle sue diverse declinazioni ideologiche, che per le numerose similitudini tra il modo in cui la questione della lingua si pose al nuovo stato unitario italiano nell’Ottocento e la rinascita dell’ebraico nel contesto delle lotte per l’indipendenza di Israele nel corso del Novecento. Il padre del movimento revisionista Vladimir Zeev Jabotinsky (1880-1940) non solo soggiornò a lungo in Italia ma in italiano scrisse saggi letterari e politici apparsi tra l’altro sulla Nuova Antologia di Firenze, cimentandosi anche alla composizioni di versi.[6] La scrittrice Leah Goldberg (1911-1970), oltre alle sue traduzioni in ebraico di Petrarca e di Dante, ebbe un ruolo importante nella fondazione di un dipartimento di italianistica presso l’università ebraica di Gerusalemme e si dedicò a piccole composizioni letterarie in italiano. Un aspetto meno noto della biografia del poeta Nathan Zach (1930-) si trova nella sua relazione con l’italiano, lingua della madre, e col tedesco, lingua del padre, due filoni sotterranei che attraversano la sua creazione poetica in ebraico. Infine non va dimenticato l’italiano che appare in alcuni film israeliani sull’Italia quali Sheleg BeAugust di Hagay Levy del 1993 o Haitalkim Baim di Eyal Halfon del 1996, girati spesso da registi di origine italiana nati in Israele, come Gady Castel (Castelbolognese) e lo stesso Hagai Levy, ma non solo. Peraltro la storia italiana, ebraica e non, è stata oggetto di un numero assai limitato di documentari tra cui The Children of Villa Emma, di Nissim Dayan del 1980; Return to the Jewish Ghetto of Venice, di Gady Castel del 1980; Nebuchadnezzar in Caesarea, di Ram Loevy, del 1980; Italy: Salomone Rossi – Between Worlds, di Asher Tlalim, del 1993 e Exploring the Angst of Daniel Oren, del 2000, sempre di Tlalim; In the Name of the Duce, di Amos Gitai, del 1994.

 

[1] Attilio Milano, Storia degli ebrei nel Levante (Firenze: Casa editrice Israel, 1949).

[2] Arturo Marzano, Una terra per rinascere. Gli ebrei italiani e l'emigrazione in Palestina prima della guerra (1920-1940) (Bologna: Marietti, 2003).

[3] Giorgio Romano, Ebrei nella letteratura (Roma: Carucci,1979) in particolare i capitoli quarto e quinto.

[4] Si vedano gli articoli contenuti negli atti della conferenza di Gerusalemme 16-17 maggio 2011, Italia – Israele: gli ultimi centocinquanta anni (Milano: Fondazione del Corriere della Sera, 2012).

[5] Un esempio tra tutti Brunco di Cori, Vi porterò sulle ali delle aquile (Roma: Lamed, 1998) e Va-Esa Etkhem Al Kanfei Nesharim (Hod Ha-Sharon, Ahital, 2004).

[6] Una lista di tutti gli scritti in italiano usciti dalla penna di Zeev Jabotinsky in Mina Graur, The Writings of Ze'ev Jabotinsky - A Bibliography. 1897-1940 (Jerusalem: Bialik, 2007) (in ebraico).