Against the “crazy and wild cries” of anti-Semitism

In Rome, the Protestants Luca Maria Negro, Paolo Ricca and Daniele Garrone met Noemi Di Segni, president of the Italian Jewish communities, on the theme "Against anti-Semitism and the drift of hatred". The meeting took place within the framework of the 2020 Freedom Week, promoted by the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy

Da sinistra, Daniele Garrone, Noemi Di Segni, Paolo Ricca, Luca Maria Negro

Rome (NEV), February 27, 2020 – On February 17, 1898, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the patent letters with which the king Carlo Alberto granted civil rights to his Waldensian subjects – and a month later also to the Jews -, the pastor Ernesto Giampiccoli, recalled the “generous hearts” of those who had supported the Waldensians in their battle for freedom: Massimo and Roberto D’Azeglio as well as many Piedmontese liberal Catholic bishops and priests. A solidarity that pushed the pastor to say: “Let us keep ourselves ready to support those who are unjustly oppressed and vilified”.
With these words, Giampiccoli’s thought went to the Jewish communities. A month earlier, on January 13, 1898, the Dreyfus trial had reopened in France thanks to the famous “J’accuse” by Émile Zola. If even in Italy the “crazy and wild cries” of anti-Semitism had arisen, the Waldensians would have been alongside the Jews.
This episode was told by Daniele Garrone, professor of the Old Testament at the Waldensian Faculty of Theology, among the speakers and organizers of “Against anti-Semitism and the drift of hatred”. The meeting, promoted as part of the 2020 Freedom Week, by the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI), was held on Sunday 23 February in Rome, in the main hall of the Waldensian faculty crowded with about 150 people.
“Protestant have no saints. However, in some villages and towns in the Waldensian Valleys of Piedmont the feast of the 17th February is equivalent to the patronal feast. So if Italian Protestants have a patron, this is Holy Freedom”, said FCEI’s president, Pastor Luca Maria Negro.
Negro wanted to underline a coincidence of dates. In 1848 the Jews obtained civil rights on March 29th.  A few centuries earlier, in 1558, but always on March 29, the Waldensian pastor Goffredo Varaglia was burned in the castle square in Turin. Today Varaglia is remembered by a brass plaque placed in the place of his martyrdom. In its own way, it is like one of the stumbling blocks that in the streets of many Italian cities recall the names and events of many Jews deported to concentration camps.
The Waldensian theologian Paolo Ricca, instead, defined anti-Semitism as “an endemic illness, that is, a typical and chronic disease of Christianity”. If it is true that anti-Semitism was theorized by Wilhelm Marr only in 1879, however, the latter found the ground in which to grow and the categories with which to express himself in the second millennium. “To recover from this disease, a radical remedy is needed: conversion. Not the conversion of the Jews, but the conversion of the Christians”.
Ricca also added that the rejection of the Jews is also the rejection of the God of Israel, “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who knows you so well that he calls you by name”, a God who loves us and asks us to love, but only finds the unavailability of those who want to be loved without loving in turn.
Noemi Di Segni, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI) replied to the three Protestant representatives. “Anti-Semitism – said Di Segni – is a ridge along which centuries and centuries of history have stratified”. Today’s task is to understand why “after the end of the Second World War, after Auschwitz it so virulently re-emerges”.
Di Segni indicated three practicable lines of action. The first is that of the cooperation among the value experiences of religions, the enhancement and sharing of dialogue and the sense of community.
The second is the line of coherence that requires, for example, to challenge Holocaust denial in all its forms, to denounce the words of hatred not as an exercise in freedom of expression, but as aggression and derision: “They are words that generate oblivion”. Similarly, Di Segni added, the line of coherence requires us not to accept the idea that Jews themselves are the cause of their own evil, nor to allow the language of the Shoah to be used against Jews and against the State of Israel, defining it as a Nazi State.
The third line is action.The cultural and educational action, widely identified also by other speakers. In the Christian context, this may mean that the many declarations against anti-Semitism signed by representatives of churches and religious institutions may become common heritage of simple believers.