Tullia Zevi, Italian Jewish leader and journalist, dies


(JTA) — Tullia Zevi, a longtime Jewish leader and one of the most prominent women in postwar Italy, died in Rome.

Zevi, who would have celebrated her 92nd birthday on Feb. 2, died Jan. 22.

Italian politicians joined Jewish leaders in paying tribute to Zevi, a journalist who served as president of the umbrella Union of Italian Jewish Communities from 1983 to 1998 — the only woman to serve in that role.

"She was a distinguished intellectual and untiring promoter of the culture of peace, who worked against any form of social discrimination," said Gianfranco Fini, president of the Chamber of Deputies.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano praised her "deep civic commitment and exquisite humanity and culture." She was, said Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, "a personality of great human and intellectual dimensions."

Born Tullia Calabi in Milan, Zevi and her family were vacationing in Switzerland when Italy’s Fascist government imposed anti-Semitic racial laws in 1938. She spent World War II in exile in France and the United States.

Zevi worked with anti-fascist groups and studied at Radcliffe University and the Juilliard School of Music, becoming an accomplished harpist.

After the war she returned to Italy and became a journalist, serving as a correspondent for Israel’s Maariv daily newspaper from 1960 to 1993. She also wrote for JTA from 1948 to 1963 and for London’s Jewish Chronicle. She covered the Nuremberg trials and the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961, among her assignments.

Her husband, Bruno Zevi, was an anti-fascist activist and noted architect who died in 2000.

During her tenure as president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Pope John Paul II made his historic first visit to the Rome Synagogue in 1986, and the Italian state signed a landmark accord governing its official relations with the Jewish community.

Zevi, meanwhile, became a national figure of moral authority, speaking out frequently against all forms of prejudice and discrimination. In 1992 she was named Knight of the Grand Cross, Italy’s highest civilian honor.

"She leaves a vacuum that will be difficult to fill," said Rome Jewish community president Riccardo Pacifici.

Pope Benedict XVI added his voice to the tributes to Zevi. In a telegram of condolence sent Monday to Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, the pope praised Zevi as a moral authority, a defender of civil rights and proponent of interfaith relations.

"The Supreme Pontiff spiritually participates in the mourning of her relatives and of the Jewish communities in Italy," the telegram read. "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." 

Recommended from JTA