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May, 2008

13May6:00 pm- 6:00 pmCentro Primo Levi Salutes Israel at 606:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Event Details

Centro Primo Levi with the Consulate General of Italy and the Consulate General of Israel present a program dedicated to the history of Italians in Israel.

May 13 at 5:00 pm

Film screening: Chalutzim: Pionieri in Israele

A film by Marco Cavallarin and Marco Mensa. Italian w/English subtitles. 2006, US premiere.

Guest speaker: Manuela Consonni (Hebrew University)

Enzo Sereni: a Jewish hero between two worlds

Enzo Sereni was an Italian Zionist, co-founder of kibbutz Givat Brenner, scholar, advocate of Jewish-Arab co-existence and a resistance fighter who was parachuted into Nazi-occupied Italy in World War II, captured by the Germans and executed in Dachau concentration camp.

Sereni was born in Rome. His father was physician to the King of Italy. He grew up in an assimilated household but became a Zionist as a teenager and was one of the first Italian Zionists. After obtaining his PhD. from the University of Rome, he made aliyah to Mandate Palestine in 1927. He worked in the orange groves in Rehovot and soon helped found kibbutz Givat Brenner. As he was an enthusiastic socialist, Sereni was also active in the Histadrut trade union. He was a pacifist who advocated co-existence with the Arabs and integration of Jewish and Arab society.

Sereni was sent to Europe in 1931-1934 to help bring people to Palestine through the Youth Aliyah, and was arrested briefly by the Gestapo. He helped to organize the Hechalutz movement in Nazi Germany and was also involved in helping to smuggle money and people out of Germany. Sereni was also sent to the United States to help organize the Zionist movement there. During World War II, he joined the British Army, and was involved n disseminating anti-fascist propaganda in Egypt. The British sent him to Iraq, and Sereni spent part of his time organizing clandestine aliyah. Sereni got in trouble with his British superior officers for his Zionist views and was imprisoned briefly for forging passports.

He then helped organize the parachute unit of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) that sent agents into occupied Europe. Of about 250 volunteer trainees, about 110 were selected for training, and 33 were actually parachuted into Europe, including Sereni, despite his relatively advanced age. On 15 May 1944 he was parachuted into Northern Italy but was captured immediately. According to records, he was shot in Dachau concentration camp on 18 November 1944. Other famous martyrs who parachuted into Europe with this unit include Hannah Szenes and Haviva Reik. Kibbutz Netzer Sereni is named after him.

May 20 at 6:00 pm 

Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò, 24 West 12 Street

Film screening: The Tree of Life

A conversation with the film maker, Hava Volterra, will follow the screening.

The Tree of Life started as a historical documentary, and evolved into a film about the author’s relations with her father and his family history.

The film was originally conceived in the spring of 2004, as a documentary that would tell the story of the Jews of Italy through the story of my late father’s family, and a few exceptional historical figures from his family.

After a few month of research Hava Volterra embarked on a journey through Italy (Milan, Ancona, Florence, Volterra, Pisa, Venice, Padova, Rome), and Israel  joined by her aunt; puppeteer and filmmaker Viviana Volterra Gerner.

The Israel visit was short, and was focused primarily on interviewing scholars with specific knowledge related to the subject of Italian Jews, and the historical figures that we were researching – Robert Bonfil, considered one of the leading scholars of Italian Jewish history, and author of a classic text on the subject of Renaissance Italian Jewry – Moshe Idel,considered today’s leading scholar of Kabalah, inheritor of the mantle of Gershom Sholem, and expert on Jewish mysticism in Renaissance Italy – and Sergio Della Pergola, head of Israel’s institute of demographics, who had been born and raised in Italy, and had done his PhD work specifically on the demographics of the Jews of Italy.

A discussion in Los Angeles revealed that Judith Goodstein, chief archivist of Caltech University, was writing a biography of the mathematician Vito Volterra. The background material and interview that she provided proved invaluable to the film’s section about Vito Volterra. Angie Volterra, granddaughter of Vito, provided photographs, along with family tree information that clarified the family connection.

The shooting in Italy came to include a visit to the family that had hidden the Volterra’s during the war ina small village on the mountains as well as a visit to the spectacular Medici library, a 500 year old library  that includes numerous original 15th century manuscripts, including the travelogue of Meshulam da Volterra, letters from Meshullam to Lorenzo de Medici, and books on Jewish mysticism and Kabalah.

In Venice Ms. Volterra also interviewed Sandro Franchini, Director of the Venice Institute of Letters and Sciences, and the author of several books about Luigi Luzzatti, prominent economist and prime minister of Italy in 1910. The film took a turning thanks to Fabrizio Lelli, expert in the history of Italian Jewry and that of the Medici family.

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