The Italkím in Israel

Although not very sizeable, the Italian Jewish community in Israel – the Italkím – constitutes a bridge between the two countries, and between Italian Jewry and Israel. The Italkím strictly speaking are the nucleus of the community actively involved in keeping alive Italian culture, and Italian Jewish culture in Israel particularly. But their sphere of cultural influence is significantly broader.

The origins of an Italian Jewish presence in the Land of Israel go back to the expulsion from the Spanish Empire, which also included the southern regions of the peninsula. About 10% of all Jews of 16th century Safed came from southern Italy.

Italians in Israel mostly grew following immigration during the 20th century. Aliyah – the symbolic ascent towards Israel – came in waves. During the British Mandate immigration to Palestine suffered legal and economic limitations which were removed with Israel’s independence and the promulgation of the Law of Return. Immigration reflected ideological, cultural, and emotional factors. But much more it followed negative political and economic circumstances in Italy, and partly positive ones in Palestine/Israel. Many came after the 1938 racial laws, after World War II, and after the 1967 Six Day War. In recent years immigration is steadily increasing again.

There were about 15,000 Italian citizens in Israel in 2012 – including several thousands originally from Libya, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Tunisia – plus some 3,000 non-citizens of Italian background and 7-12,000 other members of the respective families, for an enlarged total of 25-30,000 people. Besides, many tens of thousands non-citizens were exposed to Italian culture and language in their countries of origin, and hundreds of thousands have visited Italy or are avid consumers of Italian culture.

Italians in Israel are among the groups that asked the least help from public authorities, and were more helpful to others in solving the problems of immigrant absorption through internal solidarity and the individual resources of community members. Italkím have been prominent in all branches of academy, the professions, public service, industry, agriculture, the kibbutz, and the major cities all over the country. The major representative center is in Jerusalem although the majority resides in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. Perhaps the most meaningful contribution of the Italkím in Israeli society is their effective synthesis of Jewish spiritual values and Italian humanism.