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In Gratitude: Giorgio Campagnano z”l

Past Chairman, Keren Hayesod Rome

Rome, Italy

The world family of Keren Hayesod wishes to dedicate a moment of silence and reflection to mark the first anniversary of the death of Giorgio Campagnano z”l, one of Keren Hayesod Italy’s most devoted leaders and activists as well as President of the KH Campaign in Rome from 1977 until 1982. For decades, Giorgio Campagnano served Keren Hayesod with exemplary energy and dedication on all fronts, organizing major solidarity campaigns with Israel and vigorously rebutting those who questioned the raison d’être of the Jewish state.

Particularly memorable is the special collection of gold that he initiated for the Emergency Campaign in 1973, during the Yom Kippur War. Roman Jews were asked to donate fifty kilos of gold for their Israeli brothers, repeating what the community had done thirty years earlier, in 1943, in a futile attempt to save themselves from the ferocious Nazi brutality. Over one hundred kilos of gold was collected.
In tribute to Giorgio’s memory, we are publishing an excerpt from one of his most powerful compositions, an open letter addressed “to a Leftist friend, from a Leftist Jew”. The full text was published by his son Enrico, himself an important KH Italy leader, in the magazine Shalom” in October 2014

“I am Jewish, from a secular and highly assimilated family; the events and the course of life led me to reclaim my Jewish identity. I live it without arrogance and without fanaticism, as a cultural and religious heritage, but also a moral heritage, which I believe belongs to the most intimate and private spheres of everyone’s personal faith. Starting with equal rights, I came to a firm belief in the right to be different in a free society – at least as the bearer of a cultural and historical heritage, which is not inferior, that fuses with others to form an evolved and complete culture. What I mean is that the culture of a society must be the product of various alternative or subordinate cultures that nourish it, and that whoever is the bearer of such a subculture has the duty to preserve it, not out of narrowness, but to enable it to become the heritage of all. Think, for example, about the Neapolitan culture.

Giorgio Campagnano

Giorgio Campagnano and his wife Paola at the Suez canal, beginning of the ’70

As a young man, I was strongly anti-Zionist – and I was wrong – but over time I learned to appreciate, to enjoy, to love the State of Israel. It seemed to me that sympathy for the movement to create an independent Jewish state was in conflict with the struggle sustained over years of oppression to achieve full rights and duties for every citizen, as well as with the socialist faith, in a new, open and free world. A world without borders.
When I was a boy, during the World War II, while we were hiding we would listen to the Allied radio broadcasts, the voices of the free world, every evening. These included Radio Moscow. It opened with “The International” and with the rallying cry, “Workers of the world, unite!”. And later on, we heard the exciting news about the Red Army’s successes. You understand me, right? Forget about [the student revolt in the West in] 1968. How could a young man not get excited? And then, the post-war period: the hopes, dreams and illusions. And the sinking of those hopes, dreams and illusions. The return of the civic committees’ Catholic radicalism, of the far-Right movements. The race between opponents during the Cold War to rehabilitate the monsters responsible for the Holocaust.

Yes. The Holocaust. Actually, the Shoah. We learned about it from the first books on the subject, the witnesses, a friend who was returning from the hell of the concentration camps. The many who survived and were going to rebuild a home, a place to work, to live and to love and to re-establish a “normal” life. Spielberg has a Russian officer who is speaking to Schindler’s escapees say: “Do not go East: they hate you! Do not go West either: they despise you”. How true, and, sadly, how relevant these days. . . .
The normalization of the Jewish people in a secure and recognized state is unconsciously unacceptable to a certain culture that still poisons minds and consciences. Poses old problems. Doubts established truths. Argues about irrefutable events. It causes cracks in long-held dogmas. It creates, in short, discomfort and concern. Thus, it is intolerable. . . .
If Israel were risking a mortal danger – and it is – Europe, the Great Common House, would not lift a finger. If, God forbid, another tragedy were to strike the Jewish people – and it is clear that it would not be a tragedy only for the Jewish people – many people, famous or less famous, would unquestionably abandon themselves to extravagant and moving celebrations. And no doubt with genuine emotion. And they are those who now harshly point their finger at Israel. At this point I cannot help but remember what Golda Meir said: “Better alive and criticized than dead and mourned”.
I am the youngest son of the youngest son of a parade of twelve brothers and sisters. My father was born in 1894 (and spent seven years in the army, three of them serving Italy in the Great War – for which he was rewarded in 1938 the way you know); my grandfather was born in 1844 and lived when “The Ceremony of the Kick” during the Roman Carnival was still the custom. The representatives of the Jewish community, led by the president, would go to the capitol to get the kick in the rear from the “younger brothers” – represented by the Cardinal Vicar – amidst the applauding and screaming crowd. Yes, because the Roman Carnival focused for centuries on the ridicule and persecution (physical, too) of Jews.
In three generations – three stages: emancipation, assimilation, the reclamation of an ancient and noble identity. Thus, think about what I feel, recalling these events, by setting foot on the soil of the free State of Israel. Seeing its universities, its research centers, its auditoriums and its kibbutzim, its institutions, the good things and the less good ones. And its discussions, its debates, its diverse wealth of knowledge imported from all of the world’s cultures. And how I feel – me, culturally and psychologically Italian, actually “Roman” to the core, to be welcomed amongst its people. Yes, the people. The people of Israel. They are, or have come, from all over the world. Jews and improbable Jews, Sephardim and Ashkenazim, Orthodox and socialist, secular Zionists and religious Zionists, nationalists and cosmopolitans. Everything is questioned, everything is acclaimed on one the one hand and criticized on the other. It’s the only place on earth where you can say everything and its very opposite without anyone thinking or saying: “He speaks like that because he is Jewish”. Each person incorporates a novel within him. Amongst them I have many friends and acquaintances; they are neither better nor worse than the Italians or the French or the Greeks. But, believe me, they are the antithesis of any military or oratorical ambitions. Every one of them has a desperate need for peace and normality.”

Giorgio Campagnano

Giorgio Campagnano at a KH Campaign opening event, with his son Enrico (left) and famous journalist and essayist Arrigo Levi (right)

We thank Giorgio’s son, Enrico, and his sister, Patrizia, who are themselves closely linked to Keren Hayesod, for the help they have given in writing this tribute.
May his memory be blessed and his life serve as an example to all.

Translation: Ciro Mazzola and Shifra Paikin