'I Want to Show My Friends and Family in Rome That There’s a Different Israel'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: This Italian student feels like she belongs in Israel – but isn't sure making aliyah is the right thing to do

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Micol Meghnagi.
Micol Meghnagi.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Micol Meghnagi, 22, lives in Jaffa; flying to Rome

Hello, can I ask what you’ll be doing in Rome?

I’m going home. I grew up in Rome, in a Jewish home. Four years ago, I came to Israel to study at university for one year. Then I went back to Rome for a bit, and now I’m here to complete my thesis.

Which is about what?

The Israeli left. I’ve just finished my research, and next year I’ll write the paper.

So you’ve actually made aliyah?

No. I’m not sure I can make aliyah. I feel that I belong here, but I’m not an Israeli. I’m a Zionist, but I’m also 100 percent European and I grew up in a non-Jewish environment. I want to fight for Israeli society, and I like it more than the society I grew up in. I even have an Israel tattoo on my back, but I’m the type of person who sees politics everywhere, so it’s impossible for me. After all, there are people who live 200 meters from me and are still not considered Israelis.

Tell me more about your research.

I did my undergraduate degree in political science, with a focus on Middle Eastern studies, and my research is on activism in left-wing organizations. I’m also part of the research: I’ve taken part in activities. What they’re doing is important, and internationally hardly anyone talks about the activism of the Israeli left.

What do they say internationally?

In Italy I belong to the left side of the map, and it’s not simple. For the Italian left, Israel’s very existence is unacceptable. It’s not even a government thing – Israel can disappear as far as they’re concerned. There is anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in Italy, and they don’t really care about the Palestinians. I think I care more about the Palestinians than they do. At least I slept in the South Hebron Hills, I was in Jerusalem and I saw what’s really going on.

What’s really going on?

People don’t know that there are so many movements and organizations here, some of them of Israelis and Arabs together, and really good things are happening here. I want to show my friends and family in Rome that there’s a different Israel and that it’s beautiful and amazing. But I’m not saying we don’t have a lot to do yet.

Definitely. You said “we” – do you feel Israeli?

I don’t always know where my home is – sometimes in Rome, sometimes here. In Italy I’m a communist to the fascists and a fascist to the communists. In my high school people always said, “Micol is such a bitch because she’s a Zionist.” Other people would say I’m actually a Palestinian because I took part in activism in Bethlehem.

Funny. And sad. What’s it like to live in Jaffa?

I lived in Jaffa because, as I said, for me everything is political. In Jaffa, at least there’s coexistence, there’s dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, there are groups that hang out together, there are soccer games. I understand a little Arabic because my parents spoke Arabic when they didn’t want me to understand. It’s important for me to talk with the other, to see the pain.

How do your parents know Arabic?

My parents fled from Tripoli in 1967, after the third pogrom there. My father was 17 when he got to Rome, with five pounds. We have family in Israel and my parents love Israel very much and are involved. And so am I.

Only in activities on the ground?

Also Facebook posts. Maybe I shouldn’t write so much on Facebook. On the other hand, if you want to be an activist, a presence on social media is important, and if 70 homes are demolished in East Jerusalem I want to write about it. But then my friends tell me that I’m a tool in the hands of people who hate Israel. Sometimes, when something bad happens here, I call my father and cry, I feel so alone. That’s one of the reasons I’ve joined all kinds of organizations – I want the support of my community.

Are you optimistic?

Not really. But I have hope and love, and I believe in a two-state solution. I can only hope that by the time I have children and a family, the occupation will be over and maybe we’ll have a utopia here. It’s nice to think of a future like that. Antonio Gramsci, an Italian philosopher I like, said that he hates indifference and that to live means to take part, to take sides.

The Paperni family.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Paperni family – Miri, 43, Ofer, 47, Arad, 15, Saar, 11, and Nimrod, 17 – from Rehovot; arriving from Vienna

I know what you did this summer: a family trip.

Ofer: We try to do one every summer, and always after the 16th of the month, because Miri works at an accounting firm and they submit VAT reports on the 15th.

Miri: The timing has become more complicated in the past few years because of the children. They’re pretty busy kids.

Kids, what are you busy with?

Nimrod: I’m youth chairman of the Rehovot municipal youth council and chairman of the oversight committee of the national youth council.

Ofer: And just as we get home and start doing the laundry, he’s off to Germany with a youth delegation.

Nimrod: And before that, I came back from a delegation to Jordan.

Impressive. Are you others also so active?

Saar: I go to a science group for kids because I’m bored at school.

Miri: Arad doesn’t like to talk a lot, but he’s in a Mofet [mathematics, physics and culture] class, has been learning Thai boxing for three years and was named an outstanding athlete this year.

So how do you raise successful kids?

Miri: We just have good kids.

Ofer: We try to extract the maximum from the education system and make use of informal channels.

Nimrod: We get support from our parents to live up to our potential.

Successful parents, too?

Nimrod: My parents are perfect.

What does your father do?

Miri: Ofer is an electronics engineer with Apple.

Does he work hard?

Miri: This is a crazy period.

Ofer: I get back between 9 and 10 at night.

Miri: More like 11.

Ofer: And I continue working at home. We’re in the middle of development, so there are waves of pressure.

Saar: What he’s describing is called regression to the center. That means that if you’re in the average, you’ll go up or you’ll fall at some stage.

Ofer: But even if I come home in the middle of the night, in the morning I make sandwiches. Today people talk a lot about balancing work and life, but I always say that you need to understand two things: first, that work is work, and second, that work is work.

Words of a true workaholic.

Ofer: On the contrary, it’s just work. When the children were small, I would leave at 5 A.M. so I’d be out of the house early. Miri also worked in high-tech back then.

Miri: It was a lot more problematic then. There’s only a year and 10 months between the two older ones.

Wow, how did you manage?

Miri: I would come home crying, I barely saw the children. And then I decided that someone would have to make a concession, and I found a job at an accountant’s office. For the past 15 years, I’ve been getting home at a normal hour.

And you didn’t feel like you were giving up something?

Miri: I felt a sense of relief. It’s true that the salary and the perks don’t compare to high-tech, but I couldn’t take it anymore. These days I get home at 4, so I have no regrets.

So, how was vacation?

Ofer: We were on a 400-year-old farm, which has cows, chickens and goats.

Miri: They churn their butter by themselves, and it was real fun, but that’s thanks to the children.

Ofer: When they were small, we took them to Disneyland and they never stopped grumbling, and we realized it had no value. What’s really good for them is family time together.

There’s no friction?

Ofer: There used to be friction between Nimrod and Arad, and then Arad started learning Thai boxing. [They laugh.]

Or grumbling about being bored?

Miri: Let them grumble, I have no problem with that. Let them be bored, it develops the personality. Let them find something to do, or not, it doesn’t interest me. They can stare at documents, I’m good with that, too. A person needs time with himself, to get to know himself. I think that’s the most important part of life, to know how to be with yourself.