2000 years of an encounter between Italian culture and Judaism
For over 2,000 year Jews have been living in Italy, and for generations a rich and fascinating dialogue has been created between Jews and Italians, replete with reciprocal influence and cultivation, in various spheres of life.
The exhibition deals with these reciprocal relations through artistic works and rare items.
The Italian Jews... they only speak Italian; or rather, the Jews of Rome speak Roman, Jews of Venice speak Venetian, and so on . They dress like everybody else. They have the same face as everybody else... Then how can they be told from Christians when they walk along the street? They can’t: that’s the point... for that matter, there aren’t very many of them.”
Primo Levi, If Not Now, When?
Primo Levi well defined the Italian Jews. Their small community, that never exceed 50,000 people, was not only the oldest of the European Jewish communities, but was also different as it was not considered either Sephardi or Ashkenazi, and thus impressively assimilated into Italian society and culture.
The long-standing co-existence of Jews and Italians is the result of characteristics unique to Italy: its geographical location in the center of the Mediterranean basin, the unique temperament of its inhabitants, and the relative tolerance of its governments. Thanks to all these it served over the years as a focal point for emigrants, among them also Jews, who came from the Levant, North Africa, and West and Central Europe. The exhibit does not pretend to present the history of Italian Jewry. It is organized accorded to subjects, in two interrelating circles. The first deals with the historical aspects of the relationship between the Christian majority and the Jewish minority, which was often ambiguous: on the one hand Christian Italy revealed a lack of religious and political tolerance toward the Jews; on the other, in daily life the two peoples cooperated and worked productively in all spheres of life – economics, culture and art. The second circle deals with the effect of this close relationship on the Italian Jews.
The people, their lives and creations are displayed in the exhibit through documents, books, works of art and additional and rich testimonies. Each chapter reflects a sense of duality.
The exhibit comprises eight chapters: wandering, striking roots, rights and restrictions, inside and outside the community, from generation to generation, between Judaism and Italian culture, languages and literature, and visual arts. Special emphasis is placed on the cultural encounters between Jews and Christians, and on the men and women who played the main roles in establishing Jewish culture.
The exhibition was made possible by the Italian Institute of Culture, Tel Aviv.
Curators: Dr. Natalia Berger, Dr. Daniella De Castro
Opens: December 4, 2007
Closes: February 28, 2008