When Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters were attacked, we spent hour after hour listening to the news, checking the Internet, calling our loved ones to share our feelings and sense of loss for the disconcerting assault to two of the most crucial European values: the sanctity of life and the freedom of expression.
In Italy, the situation is very different from that of France, as Italian Jewish leaders have underlined multiple times in the past couple of weeks. The cooperation with Italian authorities is extremely positive and efficient both in terms of security issues and other areas, such as cultural projects and education about the Holocaust.
That is not to say that anti-Semitism does not exist in Italy. It does, it’s growing and it’s scary. We have to be aware of the threats, we have to work toward education, especially for the younger generations, who know very little about Judaism and are more easily influenced by the confused and often hateful information that can be found online. However, anti-Semitism in Italy in the past years has never turned into physical violence against people.
It has not always been this way. Thirty years ago, a terrorist attack targeted the Great Synagogue of Rome, killing a 2-year-old and injuring dozens. The terrorists were Palestinian. And the general understanding is that Italian authorities back then had struck a deal with the Palestinian terror organizations that they could use the country as a logistical base as long as they would not target Italian citizens. Somehow, this deal did not include the Jews.
The truth is that living in a state that played an active part in perpetrating the Holocaust, where you know that the parents and grandparents of your neighbors could have easily been responsible for the persecution of your parents and grandparents, is not easy. It means living with a physical as well as spiritual awareness that your home country and your fellow citizens betrayed you, not long ago.
At the same time, I feel offended when anyone suggests that Jews should leave Europe because it is not safe. Making aliyah to Israel is a wonderful, personal choice that everyone should make out of his or her own free will because of the realization that it is best for life and for ideals, and not out of fear.
We must not give up being part of the project of making our countries and our union a better place, a space of freedom and security. In Italy, Jews have been around for more than 2,000 years and they are Italian through and through. There is so much that we have given and are giving to Europe. But there’s also so much that Europe is and must keep on giving to the Jewish world.
Rossella Tercatin is an Italian Jewish journalist. Follow her on Twitter, @RossTercatin