Italian Jews launch paper for gentiles

By Ruth Ellen Gruber, Rome, October 15, 2009
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Italy’s first ever national Jewish newspaper hits the newsstands this month — with a twist.

While other Jewish papers across the world, such as the JC and Germany’s Juedische Allgemeine — on which it is explicitly modelled — are written for the Jewish population, Pagine Ebraiche (Jewish Pages) is being written for non-Jews.

“In Britain and in Germany there are big enough Jewish populations to give the JC and Juedische Allgemeine an ample base of readers within the Jewish community,” said Emanuele Ascarelli, who directs a Jewish television programme on state-run RAI television. “In Italy, though, there are very few Jews, so the target audience is the mainstream.”

Pagine Ebraiche will be published monthly by the umbrella Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI) and will be sold at selected newsstands in major cities around the country and by subscription.

Its contents will include news reports, essays, commentaries, historical articles, cultural pieces and other material, all written to be accessible to the general public. It is not meant to replace Italy’s local Jewish publications, including glossy community monthlies in Rome and Milan, which have small press runs and are directed at Jewish readers.

“Its role will be to speak to the external world, not the internal Jewish world,” said the paper’s editor, Guido Vitale. “Italian Jews are very representative of Italian society in general. I want to construct a piazza, an agora, where they can interact with each other and with Italian society.”

The new paper is part of a multi-faceted media offensive aimed at both bolstering the Jewish voice in mainstream society and creating a constructive dialogue between Jews and their fellow Italians.

Last year, the UCEI launched a Jewish information internet portal, www.moked.it, which runs original articles and commentary. It also publishes a daily press review with links to articles on Jewish themes in the Italian and international media.

The impetus for these initiatives stems from the desire to confront a seeming paradox: an extraordinary public interest in Jews, Jewish issues and Jewish culture in a country where Jews make up on a tiny minority. Pagine Ebraiche’s initial press run of 30,000 copies is more or less the total number of Jews who live in this country of 60 million people.

“There is a huge interest in Jews and Jewish culture in Italy,” said Mr Ascarelli, whose television programme regularly draws between 200,000 and 400,000 viewers. “Some 90 or 95 percent of our audience is not Jewish.”

In one year, Mr Vitale said, the press review on Moked included more than 100,000 articles, most of them in the Italian press. Many, of course, are on Israel and the Middle East. But even Jewish community elections are apt to make headlines.

“Everything that Jews do has a symbolism,” said Mr Ascarelli. “What Jews say counts on issues such as immigration, minority rights, the Shoah, the culture of memory.”

Still, ignorance about Jewish beliefs, traditions and values — and ignorance about Israel — is widespread.

“There is an incredible over-exposure, but the capacity for understanding is generally low,” Mr Vitale said. “In the Italian mainstream media, Jews are usually the objects of news, of something happening. In Pagine Ebraiche Jews will make their own voices heard.”

    Last updated: 3:54pm, October 15 2009