My role as president of the Canadian Institute for Mediterranean Studies at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto has given me the opportunity to act as a catalyst for some worthwhile endeavours.
Among these was the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit recently held at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Another event was the Olive Oil Project involving the consuls of some of the major countries around the Mediterranean, which was capped off by a gala evening at the ROM and an academic conference at St. Michael’s College.
Out of the Olive Oil Conference grew another project that has been of particular interest to me involving Jewish-Italian friendship. This project has had the strong support of the outgoing consuls-general of Italy and Israel.
As a young boy growing up in Toronto’s second Little Italy running along St. Clair Avenue West, many of my closest friends were Italian immigrants with whom I formed a natural bond. When I got married, it was to a girl who was born in Trastevere, the Jewish district in the heart of Rome. As a result, I developed an affinity for most things Italian.
When speaking to Gianni Bardini, the Italian consul general in Toronto, he told me of how a number of prominent Italian builders and developers had told him how they had gotten their start thanks to the help of Jewish associates. We thought that it would be a great idea to highlight the close co-operation of the two communities in their adopted homeland. Thus began the Jewish-Italian Friendship Project.
Throughout various meetings with representatives of our two communities, we were thinking of a worthwhile project that we could take on that would celebrate the partnership and achievements of our two communities. It was while contemplating this task that I received a call from Prof. Michael Chazan, director of U of T’s Archaeology Centre, asking for my help in getting U of T involved in a new excavation to be headed by Prof. Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Coincidentally, Magness also happens to be a world authority on the Scrolls who was brought to the ROM as part of the ROM’s blockbuster exhibit.)
Chazan’s call was a gift from heaven, for at one stroke I had found the ideal project that we could adopt to celebrate Jewish-Italian friendship.
We had a Roman period site in Israel in the heart of the Galilee where Jesus had spent his early ministry. It was a fitting symbiosis of our two cultures. Now, a year and a half later, the dig has provided us with a wealth of riches, including the just-announced discovery of a synagogue with a spectacular mosaic on its floor.
We look forward to having Magness come to Toronto in the early fall to tell us all about her exciting finds in a public lecture to be held at the ROM.