When entering the small room on the first floor where you sign the request to be accepted as citizen of the State of Israel, the officer of the Jewish agency asked me as very first thing: ‘’If you wish to call someone in Israel, that is the phone». And he pointed and old, black phone connected to the wall with a wire. Mobile phones did not exist yet when the right to return was introduced. When we sat down, he gave me 1200 shekels, approximately 250 Euros, and I smiled a bit embarrassed, I was not expecting this gift, I think for many it’s very important to receive a small sum of money. I had to open a bank account with that money, that was the rule. Then other papers followed, this is in fact the first step, deeds of undertaking of the State towards you, the document for the national health insurance, that for the bank, the document similar to a passport, according to which you are an Oleh Hadash, or better yet, a new citizen, someone who just ‘’entered”, the teudà zeut with your number, the number that everybody knows by heart, I will remember it too, proudly, that number that my husband repeats on the phone when he has to pay something, like a mantra… teudà zeut, identity card, this is truly Israeli, now I also have it. And then the officer, after a little while and cautiously, shook my hand and smiled at me, now that he had finally carried out all his duties, one by one. I will never forget his imposing aspect, no ceremonies, no rhetoric, only a hand shake. His face was saying, you came here to work, you made a step for which you will smile when you’ll deserve it, we came back after two thousand years to run the risk to enjoy the happiness of your people, of your hand.
That’s no joke, in the harsh and brotherly style with whom Moroccan, Iraqi, Tunisian, Egyptian, Ethiopian immigrants were welcomed in time, escaping from their lives scented of dates, delighted by the morning walks to Cairo’s synagogues, and then devastated by persecution and hunger. Or in the style with which Polish and Russians have reached here on foot or in broken and unsafe ships, persecuted in their home land by Cossacks and by the agonizing sound of the shtetl… and the Germans, Spanish, Italians, French raised in the troubled history of Europe, so rich in its aspirations but so poor in achieving them.
I did the aliyah, now being Italian and Israeli is the same thing. I wanted it as a necessary step, as a gift to Florence where I was born, as a tribute to Jerusalem which celebrates the Renaissance philosophy to save the world from human vileness, with man’s aspiration to transcend nature to shape history.
I was welcomed as I thought, as family. I really mean family. I recognize an Israeli from far, like an Italian, a native of Florence or Jerusalem, it’s part of my DNA. It’s not easy to explain: it’s the gesture of a man around sixty years old that walks along the street with a shoulder raised more than the other, his light physical handicap reminds me the intellectual arrogance of my father, so shy and resolute; or on the contrary, an athletic guy walking along the street seems part of my family, whose features have softened and rounded and his stature got taller during decades of fleeing searching for peace and then ended up here, in the miluim, doing the war; it’s the old lady at the Italian temple that wears gloves like my grandmother Rosina, who saw the shoah and offers me her cheek to kiss and looks at me with pride, as I was her niece; it’s the cabdriver who wants to know how much I make, how much I pay in rent, how many children I have and what does my husband do; and it’s the boys and girls, the handsome soldiers who cheer at the check points if finally you say hi to them when passing by, smiling with no fear, no stress; it’s the waiters at the Mac Donald’s and Cafè Cafit who take a couple of hours from their studies to make a meagre wage; the Jewish and Arab nurses at Hadassa hospital; and the girls with low necklines, so beautiful, resolute and simple, even when they are sexy; and the girls with modest dresses and the head scarf, who know that is a challenge to be Jewish like that, and love sitting at the beit cafè with their friends; it’s the children that like chickens in a hen house run around in large number (for an European point of view); it’s the family from Kibbutz that asks me stupid questions on Berlusconi and Batia who recalls when she was small, and in Mishmar Hasharon were keeping children away from parents, she was sent once to the hospital alone to undergo a tonsillectomy; and it’s the obsessed attitude of a mother who holds on to her son and repeats a quantity of annoying useless recommendations, eat, wear a sweater, tishmor le atzmechà, and be careful when you go to Gaza or at the border of Hezbollah, the one with Lebanon and Syria. Tishmor, but the shomer, the Jewish legal guardian does not sleep, it’s also written in the Bible.
The first day of Aliyah, I went to a conference on Europe at the University of Bar Ilan and a harsh, deafening alarm sounded twice, for an exercise that is being carried out all over Israel, meant for the civil population. We smiled at bit embarrassed, we stopped the discussion for a moment, everywhere in Israel were bringing children from schools to shelters, it happens a lot, many children from Kiriat Shmone or Sderot or even Haifa are used to go to shelters, adults lead the way conveying them the idea of safety, they laugh, joke around. But they are perfectly aware that it’s not a laughing matter, that a chemical or biological attack may occur, even if it’s a pessimistic scenario, perhaps these exercises can really help protecting against them… Everybody knows that, and they smile a bit embarrassed like this little fear before the immense risk that the air they breath, the blue sky, Hamsin wind is improper, not permitted.
While the alarm was buzzing and we kept on discussing Europe, I remembered that during the war of 1991, when Saddam Hussein was launching missiles also on Jerusalem, my sister Simona and I were sitting in his bathtub with the mask, even the dog, Dafka, was waiting with us for the alarm to stop, the door was taped, imagine the large security measures taken, the radio was saying to drink water, who would have thought that the bathtub would have been a real shelter if we had been hit. But we were happy. We did what we could, we were showing our determination in following all the instructions, and we kept on reading, say stupidities under that mask, and finally when out and had some tea in the kitchen. This is Israel, you play a game based on habit, challenge, courage, common intents among which simple living, and hope to remain a good, democratic Country, despite of everything.
I’m not sure from a personal or physical point of view, if here it’s better or worse for me, I’m so lucky that in Italy I live between Rome and Florence where I grew up, my life has always been brightened by beautiful sceneries like the Dome of Brunelleschi, by Michelangelo, Donatello… I have friends in Rome since I started my journalist career, people with whom I enjoy discussing and go out for supper, and I also love the oldest Jewish community in the world, boasting a history of two thousand years old in this city.
I dreamt for five years to show in the Parliament, that defending Israel is also part of being Italian, also with regards to the commitment taken in 1945 concerning equal rights of ethnic groups, religions, ideas and genders, in view of the not-easy choice to be a democratic republic, as we can also see today. I think that many members of Parliament (and from the Parliament it reached the citizens) understood this…I think. Is it an illusion? It’s hard for me to know this, future choices will tell. What seems clear to me, it’s that the choice of Israel is linked to taking care of that sense of emptiness that permeates today’s troubled Europe, where the sense of solidarity, common scope, control over destiny have been lost, magical evidence that the will changes fate, as hard as it may seem. Just think about the fondness of laws that kept Israel a democracy during 65 years of war. The certainty that Israel boasts and conveys these possibilities is my gift to Italy, Europe, and my choice of an Italian woman, who becomes Israeli.
Originally Published by Shalom