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Noemi Di Segni (UCEI): “Resist terror with courage. We cannot afford another Auschwitz”

Pope Francis’ visit to the concentration camps in Poland. Noemi Di Segni, newly-elected president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI), spoke of how the Jewish people have managed to go on with life despite the terrorist threat. “In a land that saw torment and despair, silent prayer is deeply touching”, she said. “The Pope’s compelling voice will manage to awaken quiescent consciences. Auschwitz is the annihilation of all values. We cannot afford another Auschwitz with different actors. Our hearts are directed towards him, participating in his prayer.”

 

 

“We are facing a danger. We should be able to recognize it and contain it as much as possible, at the same time we must go on with our life. We must live. “Living” is what is most important. Noemi Di Segni, 47, is the new president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI). Born in Jerusalem, grown up in Rome, her letter to Pope Bergoglio ahead of his visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps was one of her first official messages. The Pope’s decision to remain in silence is “an extremely powerful message – she promptly remarked – in a land that saw torment and despair, silent prayer is deeply touching. The Pope’s compelling voice will manage to awaken quiescent consciences. Auschwitz is the annihilation of all values. We cannot afford another Auschwitz by different perpetrators. Our hearts are directed towards him, participating in his prayers.” Di Segni took office during one of the hottest summers in the recent past. The massacre in Nice, the murderous madness of an eighteen-year-old in Munich, the atrocious homicide of the priest in Rouen, slaughtered while celebrating Mass.

Jews have had to learn to live with terror. How does life go on under constant danger?

Indeed, terrorism, anti-Semitism and hatred have been escalating throughout Europe. The Jewish people have developed a kind of DNA from time immemorial, which has enabled us to detect danger. Children in Jewish schools have grown used to seeing security guards controlling the premises.

You grow up in the awareness of danger, yet this awareness is compensated by the desire to live; to move forward, to go out, to run.

What occurs in practice?

A conscious– or perhaps unconscious – effort to transmit security measures to our offspring, to help them develop the talent to identify signs of alarm and take preventive measures, for example when entering public places. In Israel controls in shops or department stores are part of every day life, thus you slowly grow used to this invasion of privacy: we renounced this dimension in exchange for security. The question is

that until some time ago this condition only involved the Jews. Now it’s no longer only about us. We no longer need others to understand us for it has now become everyone’s problem.

Some speak of the “Israelisation” of Europe. How do you view this analysis?

This newly-conceived term effectively encompasses the fact of being attacked, of being attacked anywhere, in department stores and on the street, by anyone: children, women, or old people alike. However, the reality of Israel is evidently more complex and elaborate. But I believe that it effectively portrays a life experience that is helpless before this threat.

No security measure can prevent hate speech from being expressed through mass murder. We all face this situation alone.

The government can step up intelligence measures, but ultimately, the realm of true confrontation and conflict is the cultural realm.

In which way?

When facing an attack fear leads to hatred and hatred escalates quickly. Educational initiatives for the promotion of mutual respect, diversity, inclusion, trust, identifying and avoiding extremist drifts, are crucial. But as we all know they take time, perhaps even years. So we are facing a situation whereby hatred spreads at a much faster pace than the educational measures aimed at its containment.

What then?

Institutions, educators and families have a huge responsibility. Also religious leaders can give a great contribution. The Pope is an example. For thousands of years religion played a fundamental role when facing historical drifts. Today we need to ensure that religions bring peace and positive values.

But this requires renewed rigour: it’s hard to govern our feelings, not the things we say.

What is in store for us?

A third world war is underway. It’s a war that doesn’t deploy weapons or tanks; it’s not the war we studied in history books. This war is being waged in unprecedented ways. It uses the weapon of social networks, the power of psychology, the force of words. We are facing an epoch of a declared war that intends to annihilate our core values. That’s why we have to be brave enough to acknowledge what is happening and be prepared. I firmly believe that through unity, and especially if we are united, if religions are united, obviously including Muslims, we will manage to reaffirm our values within our diversity: an all-encompassing resistance, with courage and awareness. And no one can back out. We are all involved.

 

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