Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, center, bicycling with retired cycling champions Ivan Basso and Alberto Contador in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of the Giro.

Israel gears up to host prestigious Italian cycling race


Stressing the chance to show off Israel to the world, Israeli officials joined with their Italian counterparts in announcing Monday that three stages of the prestigious Giro d’Italia cycling race will be held in the country, starting in Jerusalem.

It will mark the first time that any leg of cycling’s Grand Tour races — the Giro, the Tour de France and the Spanish Vuelta — will take place outside of Europe, and just the 12th time the Giro had gone outside of Italy in its 101-year history.

Israeli officials said the race will be the biggest sporting event ever held in their country and touted it as an opportunity to showcase the Jewish state — and its capital — to the world.

“Hundreds of millions of viewers around the globe will watch as the world’s best cyclists ride alongside the walls of Jerusalem’s ancient Old City and our other historic sites,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said at the hotel gathering. “Our message to the world is clear: Jerusalem is open to all.”

The race will bring more than 175 of the world’s best cyclists to Israel along with tens of thousands of tourists and cycling enthusiasts.

Culture Minister Miri Regev called on “everyone who loves the Giro to come here to Israel.”

“This bike race across the Holy Land will be a fascinating journey through time covering thousands of years,” she said. “I’m sure it will be a thrilling experience for everyone.”

Israel will host the first three stages of the Giro, or “the Big Start,” on consecutive days from May 4 to 6. Stage 1 will be a 6.3-mile individual time trial in Jerusalem, passing the Knesset and ending near the walls of the Old City. Stage 2, in the North, will start in Haifa with riders pedaling 103.8 miles down the Mediterranean coast to the Tel Aviv beach. Stage 3, in the South, will cover 140.4 miles through the arid Negev from Beersheba to Eilat on the Red Sea.

Italian officials told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz earlier this month that they were being careful to avoid crossing into politically sensitive areas, like the West Bank or eastern Jerusalem, which they feared could spark protests. An official map of the Stage 1 route shows it approaching but not entering the Old City, which is located in eastern Jerusalem — where much of the world, but not the Israeli government, envisions a future Palestinian capital.

According to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, the route will pass the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial as part of a tribute to Gino Bartali, an Italian cycling champion credited with saving hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust. While ostensibly training in the Italian countryside, Bartali, who won the Giro four times and the Tour de France twice, would carry forged papers in the frame and handlebars of his bicycle to Jews hiding in houses and convents. He also hid a Jewish family in his cellar.

In 2013, years after his death in 2000, he was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Israel’s Holocaust authority, Yad Vashem.

Alberto Contador, left, and Ivan Basso, right, former winners of the Giro d’Italia, with race and Israeli officials including Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, fourth from right. (Courtesy of the Giro)

Italian Sports Minister Luca Lotti said Monday that the race would celebrate Bartali’s memory. In addition to being a great sports champion, he said, Bartali “was also an extraordinary champion of life, and a man of heroic virtues, and this needs to be commemorated, and shared, especially with the young generations — never to be forgotten.”

Retired Giro champions Alberto Contador of Italy and Ivan Basso of Spain, both two-time winners, also were on hand for the Jerusalem announcement.

Sylvan Adams, a Canadian real estate magnate and philanthropist who recently immigrated to Israel, helped bring the Giro to Israel and will serve as its honorary president. Adams said he was motivated by love of cycling and a desire to help his adopted country.

“I would call this the antidote to BDS,” he told JTA, referring to the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. “The media sometimes portrays our country in a negative way, and this is a way to bypass the media and go straight into the living rooms of 800 million people. They’ll see our country exactly as it is, and my experience is people almost universally have positive experiences when they encounter Israel.”

The Giro is just part of Adams’ larger plan to make Israel a cycling powerhouse. A co-owner of the Israel Cycling Academy, Israel’s first professional cycling team founded in 2014, he is building the first velodrome in the Middle East in Tel Aviv to be finished in time for the race.

“My plan is to bring Israeli athletes to the highest level of the sport,” he said.

Ran Margaliot, an Israeli former professional cyclist and the general manager of the Israel Cycling Academy, said the team has applied to compete in the Giro and will find out if it qualified in December. It is among 32 second division teams jockeying for a wild card spot, but he is hopeful.

“I certainly think we deserve an invitation,” Margaliot told JTA. “No one can tell me we’re not good enough, and we work as hard as the Europeans, even harder.”

Margaliot said that while he failed to achieve his ambition of becoming the first Israeli to race in a Grand Tour, the next best thing would be for an Israeli member of his international team to do it.

“You can imagine what it would mean for an Israeli rider to be racing in his own country, passing near his home and friends and family,” he said before catching himself. “But we have a lot of work to do to get ready.”


The Jewish translator behind Elena Ferrante — and Primo Levi


It was back in the fall, at an event at BookCourt in Brooklynwhen translator Ann Goldstein was first asked for her autograph by an eager reader.

Goldstein was caught by surprise. After all, this was before her work appeared on The New York Times list of “100 Notable Books of 2015” — not once, but twice.

In nonfiction, it was for “The Complete Works of Primo Levi,” a three-volume compendium of new translations of the late Italian Holocaust survivor’s 14 books — including “The Periodic Table” and “If This Is a Man.” She had shepherded the behemoth project into being over several years, serving as editor as well as translator of several included works.

Receiving rarely more than a passing line of praise in a book review, translators tend to toil behind the scenes, as authors enjoy the available literary limelight. So for Goldstein — who was profiled recently in The Wall Street Journal  and the Atlantic  — the attention feels “strange,” she tells JTA, sitting in an out-of-the-way spot in the Conde Nast cafeteria on the 35th floor of One World Trade Center.

To an outside observer, however, what’s strange is that the buzz has only just arrived, considering that in addition to her translating work, she has held one of the literary world’s enviable job titles since 1987. Goldstein is an editor at The New Yorker — including of Janet Malcolm, Adam Gopnik and John Updike — and head of what is likely the world’s most well-respected copy department.

“I’ve been working with other people’s words for a long time,” says Goldstein, who was initially hired by the New Yorker in 1974 as a proofreader. “The first job I had at the New Yorker was with Ved Mehta [a staff writer from 1961 to 1994]The New Yorker always supplied an assistant to him. He’s blind. He would say a sentence out loud, and then you would write it down, and then you would read it to him.”

“It made you quite attentive,” she adds.

The lively openness Goldstein, 66, brings to conversation doesn’t extend to questions about her personal life, many of which are met with mild antipathy.

Still, Goldstein is far more forthcoming than Elena Ferrante, the pseudonym of the mysterious Italian writer who has ridden out “Ferrante Fever” with the secret of her identity intact.

“I simply decided … to liberate myself from the anxiety of notoriety and the urge to be a part of that circle of successful people, those who believe they have won who-knows-what,” Ferrante said in an extremely rare interview with Elissa Schappell in Vanity Fair.

Even Goldstein doesn’t communicate directly with the author, who uses her publisher as a go-between. Rumors have surfaced repeatedly (only to be discredited) about Ferrante’s true identity, including that it’s Goldstein herself.

Long before finding fame, of sorts, Goldstein was first drawn to Italian through the works of Dante. A Jewish girl (albeit one with “no religious education”) with Russian roots, she grew up in Maplewood, New Jersey, and graduated from Bennington College in Vermont. Goldstein says she doesn’t “have an organized background in Italian literature.” In the late 1980s, she studied with a handful of New Yorker staffers who met regularly to learn Italian so together they could read and discuss Dante. This was when “companies would pay for language classes,” she says.

“I like studying all different languages,” says Goldstein, who also knows Latin and Greek, understands French and has “a little German,” plus a smattering of a Jewish Piedmontese dialect with Hebrew roots, thanks to Levi. She wishes that when she was younger, she would have “learned Yiddish from her great-aunts.”

“Just learning a foreign language is something that makes you very attentive,” Goldstein says.

Before working on Levi, “I had read very little Holocaust stuff,” she says, adding that she found the history of Italy in the war fascinating. Inspired by her immersion in Levi’s accounts of what it was like to survive Auschwitz, Goldstein says she now has “more of an interest” in her Jewish roots.

Goldstein is matter-of-fact when she describes how she manages to hold a demanding day job and translate great works in her “spare” time.

“I work on weekends; I work on vacations. I work in bits of time,” she says. “I’ve been going to Italy for about three weeks to a month each year,” preferring summertime in Rome.

“I always have work to do. I always wanted to have work to do.”

Goldstein has five translations slated for publication this year: Jhumpa Lahiri’s Italian memoir, “In Other Words”; Ferrante’s “Frantumaglia”; “The Young Bride” by Alessandro Baricco; “The Street Kids” by Pier Paolo Pasolini, and “Something Written” by Emanuele Trevi.

When in New York, she makes time for city walking, especially from her Greenwich Village home in Lower Manhattan to her office high above the reflecting pools at the 9/11 Memorial Plaza. She has little time to read, but when translating she favors 19th-century English authors: Henry James, PG Wodehouse. When Goldstein spoke with JTA, she was making her way through Maria Eisenstein’s “L’Internata numero 6” (“Internee No. 6″), about a group of women interned during World War II.

This is unsurprising, given the big themes – war, politics, class, friendship – that run deeply through the works she’s translated.

That’s especially true with Ferrante’s magnificent quartet about the societal and historical events that over the course of five decades shape the lives of two friends, Elena and Lila, who strive to push back against these forces to mold their own lives. (In case you haven’t heard “Lila” pronounced aloud, from Goldstein’s lips it’s “Lee-la,” not “Lie-la.”)

“It’s both historical and feminist,” Goldstein says.

At the same time, the Neapolitan series is about class, one that harkens back to a narrative familiar to American Jews — education as a pathway out of poverty.

“The classes are so definite,” she says. “[Elena’s] striving to get to one point … and yet she’s always drawn back.”

But the books also probe what happens to an individual’s identity when she embarks on such a journey.

“There are moments when [Elena] feels that it has taken her away from her roots, her childhood, her pasts,” Goldstein says.

Ferrante “writes about her characters’ experience in a genius way,” she says. “A woman writing an epic — it is unusual.”

As small publishers like Europa bring out translated editions to great acclaim, “It’s great for people to know that there are people behind the scenes doing the work,” says Goldstein, the recipient of a PEN Renato Poggioli Translation Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

And, just maybe, we’re approaching a time when the spotlight will be trained on translators. As it happens, two new novels by Jewish writers featuring translators as protagonists have come out this winter: Rachel Cantor’s “Good on Paper“and Idra Novey’s “Ways to Disappear.

For her part, Goldstein has no plans to write a novel of her own. “Translating is a form of writing,” she says.

In fact, it’s her preferred form. Her priority? “To master translation,” she says.

Of course, according to her ever-growing body of readers, she already has.

Italian Holocaust victims remembered


The names of 8,000 Italian Jewish victims of the Holocaust were read aloud on Jan. 25 as part of four area events in honor of Italy’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The names were split among four venues in L.A. County: the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) in Pan Pacific Park, Milken Community High School in Bel Air, Bishop Conaty-Our Lady of Loretto High School in Harvard Heights and St. Bede the Venerable Catholic church in La Canada Flintridge.

“We vow never to forget the sanctity of their lives,” Rabbi Mark Diamond, director of the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Los Angeles chapter, said of the victims. He read names at LAMOTH, where he was joined by Giuseppe Perrone, consul general of Italy in Los Angeles; Perla Karney, vice president of LAMOTH’s board of directors; and the Rev. Alexei Smith, director of ecumenical and interreligious affairs for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

In 2000, the Italian government declared Jan. 27 a day of remembrance, which honors the 8,000 Jewish Italians deported by the Germans to Auschwitz-Birkenau and other camps following the fall of Italy’s fascist government in 1943. In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated Jan. 27 — the date in 1945 when Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau — as International Holocaust Remembrance Day to commemorate the more than 8 million victims of the Holocaust.

This was the second year that AJC and the Italian Consulate General in Los Angeles co-sponsored a remembrance ceremony.

One of the 8,000 Italian Jews was Dario Gabbai, 90, a Holocaust survivor and former member of the Sonderkommando, a team of prisoners forced to move and cremate the bodies of those killed in the gas chambers. Gabbai visited Milken and the LAMOTH to read names aloud.

Reading in the morning from the list at Milken, Gabbai paused when he came upon one he recognized. 

“I knew him,” he told the crowd, explaining how this friend had died in Auschwitz.

Interested in forming Jewish partnerships worldwide, students at Milken, one of the largest Jewish day schools in the country, organized the Italian remembrance ceremony at their school. It was an unfamiliar, albeit rewarding, ceremony for Milken 11th-grader Jenna Goldstein, who co-chaired the event with fellow student Shauna Shafai.

“Most of my life, I’ve been honoring everyone as a whole, so it was a different experience to focus on Italian Jews,” Goldstein said.

St. Bede’s participation arose because the school’s leader, the Rev. Antonio Cacciapuoti, has a “close relationship with the [Italian] consulate,” said Gosia Szymanska Weiss, assistant director for international relations at AJC-Los Angeles.

As for Bishop Conaty-Our Lady of Loretto’s participation, it was born from past collaborations  between the AJC and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which oversees Catholic high schools, among other institutions. Representatives of the Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles and of AJC joined the school’s students in reading 2,000 names.

Two days later, the LAMOTH honored International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Tours included pieces on loan from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum of Poland, and survivors spoke in person.

Perrone, the consulate general, is one of dozens of diplomats who works with AJC on global Jewish advocacy. He said that the Holocaust is difficult to talk about, and so, in this case, “We decided to let the names do the talking.”

Roman Jewry mourns Italian Muslim leader


The Rome Jewish community mourned the death of an Italian Muslim leader who was a key figure in promoting interfaith Jewish-Muslim relations.

Mario Scialoja, a retired Italian diplomat and the first president of the Italian office of the World Muslim League, died Monday in Rome. His funeral took place Tuesday in Rome’s Grand Mosque.

Scialoja, who was 82, converted to Islam in 1988 when he was an Italian diplomat at the United Nations in New York. His last diplomatic post was as Italian ambassador to Saudi Arabia in 1994-96.

“A sincere friend with whom we shared genuine dialogue initiatives has left us,” said Riccardo Pacifici, president of the Rome Jewish community. “Even in moments of tension, he always demonstrated he knew how to maintain the level of dialogue and respect.”

Gino Bartali, Italian cycling legend, saved Jews during WWII [VIDEO]


World renowned cyclist Gino Bartali, the subject of new book “Road To Valor,” saved Jews during World War II, according to ” title=”HuffingtonPost.com” target=”_blank”>HuffingtonPost.com.