When Italy’s national soccer team faces Spain in the final game of the European Soccer Championship, Italian Jews will have a special reason to cheer.
Mario Balotelli, the black Italian soccer star whose two goals gave Italy its 2-1 semifinal victory over Germany on Thursday, grew up as the foster son of a Jewish mother in northern Italy. Balotelli dedicated his semi-final goals to his foster mother, Silvia, and newspapers and web sites ran a dramatic photo of him tearfully embracing her after the match. An article on Moked, the web site of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, called the embrace “an emotion for all Italians and a special emotion for Italian Jews.”
The tournament, commonly called Euro 2012, has taken place in Poland and Ukraine this year. Kiev will host Sunday’s final match.
Balotelli revealed the fact that his adoptive mother was Jewish in early June, when – like other teams – the Italian national team visited Auschwitz ahead of the start of the games. The white supremicist web site Stormfront immediately attacked him with vicious racist and anti-Semitic insults. “He’s black and Jewish he should play for Israel not Italy,” wrote one commenter on Stormfront.
Balotelli, who plays for Britain’s Manchester City as well as the Italian national team, was born Mario Barwuah to Ghanaian immigrant parents in Palermo. He suffered from health problems as a small child and eventually his financially strapped parents placed him in the care of Francesco and Silvia Balotelli.
A writer in the Italian Jewish monthly Pagine Ebraiche called Balotelli “the symbol of the commitment that brings together the experience of immigration, of acceptance and of success. But [he is] also a tribute to his adoptive mother, the Italian Jew who welcomed the child and whose family suffered during the dark years of the Shoah.”