Italy Tell The Story Of Its Jewish People In New Museum

Diario Judío México - e story of Jews in Italy is really an Italian story,” Dario Disegni said one recent autumn morning at Columbia University’s Italian Academy for Advanced Studies.

Disegni, president of the National Museum of Italian Judaism and the Shoah, was appearing at Columbia to discuss the museum, which is also known as MEIS, opens in Ferrara on December 13. Italy does not lack for museums dedicated to its Jewish history, or, more commonly, memorials. You can wonder at the minutely detailed synagogues in Venice’s former Jewish ghetto, and mourn the limits that were imposed on the lives of the ghetto’s residents. Outside Rome, you can see what remains of a fourth-century C.E. synagogue, itself built on the ruins of a synagogue constructed five centuries earlier. In Carpi, a town close to Modena, you can visit the Museum to the Deported, a tribute to those who, including Primo Levi, were deported to concentration camps from the nearby Campo di Fossoli.

Yet Italy has not had a centralized institution that makes overarching sense of the history of its Jews. MEIS aspires to fill that void, beginning with an ambitious first exhibit: “Jews, an Italian Story: The First Thousand Years.”

In Italy, Disegni said, “when [people] speak of Jews, they mean Jews are the people of the Shoah.” A wing of the new museum will be dedicated to the horrors of the Holocaust. Yet the choice to open the museum without emphasizing the effects of World War II on Italy’s Jews reflects a clear philosophical framework. Yes, the Holocaust happened to the Jews; just as deserving of attention are the remarkable contributions the Italian Jewish community made to Italian culture since the earliest days of the Common Era.

“Its goal is to communicate the uniqueness of the history of Italian Judaism,” Disegni said, “describing for the first time in Italy how the Jewish presence in Italy was formed in stages, and how from generation and generation the Jews of Italy built their own unique identity, even with respect to the rest of Judaism.”

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