Activity: Saving a Jew

This is a three-part activity. It is possible to use any or all of its parts. The second and third parts are dependent on the material in the first part, but - with adjustments - they can be used separately. The aim of the activity is to deepen the students’ ability to internalize the questions involved in Jewish solidarity that were raised in the previous activity, and to work through them on a deeper and more demanding level.

  • The activity is organized as a simulation. To that end we suggest that you, the teacher, take on a role in the exercise, preferably as one of the leaders of the Bologna Jewish community or of one of the parents. If you do not care to do this, you can present the story in the usual third person fashion. Whichever strategy you adopt, start by telling the students the basic storyline.

    In addition to the essential narrative, you should emphasize the following points:

    • the changes that had occurred in the self-definition of Western and Central European Jewry in the course of the nineteenth century;
    • the importance that Jews attached to loyalty towards their government, and their desire not to upset their image as trustworthy citizens with no outside allegiances;
    • the idea that Western Jews might see Italian Jews, first, as Italians first and Jews second.
  • Tell the students that they represent the leadership of Italian Jewry at the time of the event. They have decided to help the Mortara family and also think that it vital to get the leaders of the Jewish communities of other European countries involved in pressuring their respective governments. Naturally, they understand that there are many difficulties involved.
  • Tell the students to write a letter to those leaders. The letters must awaken the recipients’ feelings of Jewish solidarity and responsibility, and move them to action despite any misgivings they may have.
  • Divide the class into groups to write drafts of letters to the leaders of the Jewish communities in England, France, Germany and Holland.

    The students do not need any detailed information about these communities. All they - and you - must know is that they were all Western communities that had either gained equal rights or were in the process of doing so. France and Holland had granted equality to their Jews at the end of the nineteenth century; England had granted some rights already and was in the process of granting others, although full emancipation would not be completed for another thirty years. In Germany the situation was a little more complex; it was not a united country as such but rather a conglomeration of some hundreds of politically independent states, most of them small. By this time, most of these states had granted their Jews equal rights. We have referred to Germany for the sake of simplicity, but if you want to be more accurate you might care to refer to Prussia, the largest German state and the one that contained a large number of Jews. Prussia was actually in the process of granting emancipation at this historical moment.

    The important thing here is not historical accuracy, but rather important to get the students to struggle with the arguments necessary to try and persuade Jews who are losing their commitment to the larger concept of Jewish responsibility to consider their obligations to the wider Jewish community.

  • The class should compare and analyze the groups’ letters. They should then devise the best common strategy for gaining the support of Western Jewry. Ask them to write the best arguments in a common letter to be sent out to all the communities.


 

 

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10 Dec 2006 / 19 Kislev 5767 0