Seeds of Israel Take Root Afar

ON THE GO

By Masha Leon

Published March 05, 2004, issue of March 05, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

“I was a left-wing extremist… a young student… screaming in Rome against Israel and Zionism,” said Francesca Cernia Slovin, the Italian author of “In Principio: Dove Affondano le Radici di Israele” (“In the Beginning: Where the Seeds of Israel Take Root”), which was showcased at a February 12 event at the Center for Jewish History. “That is… until 1974… when I left for Israel with a four-day round-trip ticket and ended up living there for a year,” said Cernia Slovin, a convert to Judaism.

“This [book] is a story of love … for the land of Israel,” professor Allan Nadler said, quoting from the book’s jacket. Nadler, a Judaic scholar, told the audience that the book was “originally intended as a short biography of David Ben-Gurion,” but was transformed “into an historical novel [to help] the reader gain… a deeper understanding of Ben-Gurion and bring together the parallel discourse that modern Zionism stood for… more illuminating for the readers in Italy, where the subject is quite unknown… or intentionally neglected.”

Prefacing a reading in English translation by actor George Marfogen, Nadler introduced the audience to the book’s protagonist, Yakov, a 10-year-old in czarist Russia at the time of the first Zionist Congress in Basel — which took place in 1897, the year the Bund was founded and the Forward launched — who at 16 goes to Palestine with his friends. Yakov joins a moshav, or agrarian cooperative; one friend becomes a guard in the first Jewish defense unit in Palestine, or a shomer; two help smuggle Jews into Ottoman-blockaded Palestine; another helps found the first kibbutz, Digania; several die of malaria or from Bedouin and Arab attacks.

In Italy, she said, “the book has been adopted in several high schools…. Mature audiences, teachers thanked me… for this missing page of history…. But the 16- to 18-year-olds refused to open their minds…. There were attacks from the left-wing press.”

“I hope my book sheds a little light on this piece of history… little known in America and less in Europe and Italy,” Cernia Slovin said.

* * *

“I’ve just come back from Cuba!” Jolanta Zamecka exclaimed when she called me last month. A board member of the Holocaust Memorial and Educational Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove, N.Y., Zamecka was part of a group that brought to Cuba the country’s first-ever Holocaust exhibit.

How? When? Why? I wanted to know. Zamecka told me to “call Murray Slimowitz,” a fellow board member.

During a series of conversations, Slimowitz told me that in June 2003, courtesy of Miami-based Jewish Solidarity, he revisited Cuba for his 50th wedding anniversary. “It was a pearl in the book of our memory,” said Slimowitz, whose last visit was 44 years ago. Of Cuba’s estimated 1,500 Jews, according to Slimowitz, 800 are in Havana. He said that “at Patronato, a Conservative temple, I was amazed to see Jewish children going to Sunday school…. In 1997 [Fidel] Castro allowed Jews to practice…. Castro is politically anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, but not anti-Jewish. He comes to the synagogue. We donated $300 to the Hebrew school for supplies. But the community’s president, a Dr. [Jose] Miller, said he’d rather buy shoes for the school’s children. In Cuba, children over 7 do not get milk without U.S. dollars.”

In Santa Clara, Cuba’s second-largest city, he visited the Jewish cemetery and met its 25-strong Jewish community’s leader, David Thacher, a professor. Thacher spent $500 to build a Holocaust memorial in the Jewish cemetery.

“He told me he wished he had a Holocaust museum to show the Cuban people why Israel is so important — to counter the propaganda,” Slimowitz said.

“I’m a Zionist,” Slimowitz said. “I was motivated by Thacher, and back home I assembled an exhibit with Jolanta to go to Cuba.”

Incorporating photographs from Yad Vashem, the exhibit opened in Havana in December.

Curated by Rachel Jagoda of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, the exhibit “will travel to Cuba’s Jewish communities, including Guantanamo Bay,” Slimowitz said. He added that a Nicaraguan representative to Cuba, “who happens to be Jewish and davens at Great Neck Synagogue when in New York, attended the exhibit. He asked that the exhibit be brought to Nicaragua.”

A few days ago Slimowitz called with exciting news: “I’m going back to Cuba in October. They’re planning to place the exhibit — permanently — in Havana’s National Museum!”






Find us on Facebook!
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.