Florence for Outsiders

Ingathering of Exiles

They were all soldiers. Or at least had been. Some spoke in Hebrew, others in Italian. Some didn’t understand each other. My Israeli father served as translator, talking to everyone in English and German. That did the trick.

Jew and church. Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence.

The air was heavy in the room, and everyone was tense. The host, a grizzled-looking, red-haired sculptor named Ilan, handed me a hot chocolate and told me to sit in the corner in Hebrew. “Yallah Yoel, nazuz” (Get going, Joel, move it).

This was, as my father explained to me afterwards, an important event. The Italians were mostly veterans of the Jewish Brigade, a British Army division consisting of Jews enlisted in Palestine who fought their way up from the south.

These Jews had gone to the Levant to escape Mussolini and the Nazis and decided to remain in Italy after being demobilised. Their families (or what remained of them) were still there. They were communists, my father explained, not Zionists.

That was the last time I spent time in Florence. I was eight years old, and we were living in Genoa. Three decades later, in 2005, we discussed the event in Israel. I was able to confirm what happened. But my father refused to discuss it further.

Continue reading in this week’s newsletter.

Photograph courtesy of Joel Schalit. All rights reserved.