(JHE) — Italian Jews are mourning the death this week of Amos Luzzatto, a longtime community leader who passed away September 9 aged 92.
Luzzatto, a physician and scholar, served as president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI) from 1998-2006 and also served as president of the Jewish community of Venice.
He was deeply engaged in Jewish heritage and cultural affairs, and a powerful champion of the role of culture and heritage in society and in forging Jewish identity.
It was during his mandate as president of the UCEI that the European Day of Jewish Culture (ECJC) was established. The first edition of the pan-European festival took place in 2000. This past Sunday, September 6, the EDJC kicked off its 21st annual edition, with hundreds of events in more than 25 countries.
The aim of the EDJC is to recognize Jewish heritage as an integral part of the cultural heritage of Europe, to promote tourism and other visits to Jewish heritage sites – and also to promote Jewish pride and sense of identity. Another goal has been to educate the non-Jewish public about Jews and Judaism in order to demystify the Jewish world and promote tolerance.
Back in 2001, not long after the first EDJC, Luzzatto defined the EDJC as “the first event that really politically unified European Jewry.”
“As it enlarges, it gets bigger and more important,” he told a General Assembly of European Jewish communal leaders held in Madrid.
It makes European Jews feel that there is something that united them and also unites them with Europe…. it becomes a politically important event for Europe. As political representatives of European Jewry, we must make use of this channel to contact the European Union and make the Day a political event for Europe. If the majority of visitors are non-Jews, this means that it is a political event for Europe.
In 2005, Luzzatto reiterated the role of the EDJC, and the role of Jewish culture and heritage in general, rejecting calls to cancel the EDJC despite heightened concerns about terrorism.
“The European Day of Jewish Culture will take place this year in a climate of great international tensions, of serious risks of terrorist attacks, in a climate of fear,” he said.
Organizers, he said, had asked themselves if it might not be better to call off events.
“But,” Luzzatto went on, “we decided that this would not be right, because it is just at times like these that culture becomes even more important.”
Culture, he said, “does not represent a luxury for times of ease and tranquility. On the contrary — it is one of the most important weapons at our disposal to react against violence, bloodshed and destruction.
“If we had cancelled everything,” he said, “the terrorists would have won. We cannot allow fear to stop us.”
May his soul be bound up in the bond of life — may his memory be a blessing.