Tullia Zevi, grande dame of Italian Jewish community, dies

ROME (WJC)– Tullia Zevi, one of the historic post-war leaders of Italy’s Jewish community, has died in Rome at the age of 91. Zevi was life-long fighter for human rights and one of the best-known women in Italy for many decades. She was once considered a candidate for the country’s presidency. From 1983 to 1998, she served as president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI), the umbrella organization of Italian Jewry, and was the only woman so far in that post. She also served as Executive member of both the World Jewish Congress and the European Jewish Congress.

Tullia Zevi was born in Milan on 2 February 1919. In the 1930s, she went to France to study and later to the United States with her family after Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had enacted racial laws discriminating against Jews and banning them from studying at certain universities. She returned to Italy in 1946 and worked as a journalist, also becoming involved in Italian politics.

During her presidency of UCEI, Zevi was instrumental in fostering closer relations between Jews and the Vatican. She received Pope John Paul II for his historic visit to Rome’s main synagogue in 1986. She was always outspoken against the dangers of neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism and never afraid of sparking a controversy if she deemed it necessary.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano praised her “deep civic commitment and exquisite humanity and culture” and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said she had been “a personality of great human and intellectual dimensions.” Rome’s former mayor Walter Veltroni described 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.”

Pope Benedict XVI sent a telegram of condolence, Renzo Gattegna, Zevi’s successor as UCEI president. “Having learned the news of the death of Tullia Zevi”, it  reads, “the Supreme Pontiff spiritually participates in the mourning of her relatives and of the Jewish communities in Italy. He gives assurances of his prayers and recalls her exalted moral profile and authoritative contribution to the development of values of democracy, peace and freedom in Italian society, and to sincere and profound dialogue between Jews and Christians.”

Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

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