'Extraordinary' Tullia Zevi mourned

By Jennifer Lipman, January 24, 2011
Tullia Zevi

Tullia Zevi

The JC’s longtime Italy correspondent and the only female president of Italian Jewry in history has died at the age of 91.

Tullia Zevi, whose family left their home in Milan for France in the 1930s when the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini instated antisemitic laws, also served in the World Jewish Congress and European Jewish Congress.

From 1983 she spent five years as head of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, during which time she oversaw the first papal visit to the Rome synagogue in modern history.

After the Nazis occupied France Mrs Zevi fled to New York, returning to her home country after the war to pursue a career in journalism. She worked for the JC for more than 30 years.

As a fledgling reporter she was assigned to cover the Nuremberg war crimes trials and later reported from the trial of Nazi SS officer Adolf Eichmann.

Instrumental in encouraging interfaith dialogue in Italy, she was a tireless campaigner against social injustice and antisemitism wherever she saw it.

Her active communal role was inspired by the fact, as she wrote, that she had been “born into a tradition of Jews living on Italian soil since the era of ancient Rome, a tradition of 70 generations that Mussolini and Hitler had failed to destroy.”

She was nominated for “European woman of the year” in 1992 and the year after given the Knighthood of the Great Cross, one of the Italian republic’s highest honours.

Mrs Zevi was also a talented musician who studied at Juilliard. As a young woman she earned money as a harpist, performing everywhere from synagogue shows to on stage with Frank Sinatra and with the New York Symphony Orchestra when it was directed by Leonard Bernstein.

The former mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, described Mrs Zevi as an extraordinary woman “who was at once strong, courageous and meek”.

He said: "We are losing a protagonist of our history.”

Riccardo Pacifici, the president of Rome’s Jewish community, said: "She leaves a vacuum that will be difficult to fill.”

    Last updated: 10:39am, January 24 2011