Israel’s victims of terror have slipped from the headlines, but they were very much on the mind of Milan’s Mayor Gabriele Albertini when he met with their families in Kfar Chabad in Israel last week.
Mayor Albertini, a member of the European Parliament, took snapshots of smiling young adults, hopeful children, in hand. Frozen in time–before bomb blasts at Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv, before the sniper’s bullets struck–the men, women and children in the pictures looked out as reminders that in the conglomerate of victim statistics, are individuals sorely missed by their loved ones.
Now as the world turns to the chaos of insurgencies and menace in other corners of the world, Mayor Albertini, a member of the European Parliament, pledged not to forget. “I feel honored that you came to share your grief with me,” said Mayor Albertini.
The families asked Albertini to “keep the photos close to his heart” when he returns to the European Parliament and votes on issues critical to Israel.
“I will keep these photos with me everywhere I go,” said Albertini.
With the Mayor so visibly moved by the story, the families, whose lives have been altered irrevocably by terror, were “uplifted,” said Rabbi Menachem Kutner, Director of Chabad Terror Victims Project. “The empathetic visit of a personage such as the mayor of a large foreign city is encouraging to these families,” he said. Mayor Albertini went on to praise Chabad’s Terror Victims Project for remaining steadfast in its mission to support victims and their families from the moment of the tragedy and way beyond—in the hospital, during holidays and through the years.
The stop at Kfar Chabad was one of many in the Mayor’s tour of the Middle-East. Milan’s mayor has previously traveled the 1,600 or so miles, a hop and skip by plane, to Israel. Fashionable Milan is a sister city of Tel Aviv, and the Mayor has gained a reputation for seeking new opportunities for his city by singing its praises on world tours. Most of his Israel trip was spent doing just that and shuttling from political meetings with Shimon Peres, President Moshe Katsav, to cultural events like a Tel Aviv fashion show.
But a state visit to Israel without a religious component is political sacrilege. When it came time for Mayor Albertini to experience Israel’s spiritual side, his office of international affairs contacted Chabad of Milan. Chabad representative, Rabbi Yigal Hazan, was deeply involved in organizing the itinerary. “We made different suggestions of places that would put the Mayor in touch with the realities of Jewish society,” he said. This meant that the Mayor’s tour of Yad Vashem’s haunting exhibits and tree planting in a city square dedicated to the memory of a Zionist from Milan were put into perspective with remarks by Rabbi Avrohom Hazan, Dean of Chabad’s Merkos School in Milan.
Chabad of Milan was asked to organize the religious component of the trip because Chabad has an excellent working relationship with the municipal government, said Rabbi Hazan. Recently, Chabad acquired a municipal building for its 170-students Merkos School. During the inauguration of the building, Rabbi Yona Metzger, Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, thanked the Mayor for his warm support of Jewish education and offered to reciprocate if the Mayor would come to visit Israel.
In a private meeting, Chief Rabbi Metzger fulfilled his promise of hospitality. The two spoke of many issues, the dangers of Islamic fanaticism among them, facing the Jewish people in Israel and the people of Europe. Though global issues were discussed, Rabbi Hazan expects the impact of the mayoral visit to have a positive effect on Jewish life in Milan. “Every Jew identifies with the land of Israel,” said Rabbi Hazan. “The fact that the mayor should be there and actively seek to understand Jewish life and life in Israel shows he is sensitive to our situation.”