It is a daunting task to turn my immense gratitude into an exercise in brevity.
It all started when the Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University gave a chance to an unorthodox applicant for their PhD program. My adviser in the Hebrew and Judaic Studies Department, Elliot Wolfson, gave me both guidance and space to grow. The sheer magnitude of his scholarship, his enduring presence, and his dedication have been an inspiration. I also thank Zvi Ben Dor Benite, David Engel, Stefanos Geroulanos, and Elli Stern on my committee, whose judicious observations helped me make sense of Benamozegh’s voices and to start thinking of the book that could emerge from the abundance of Benamozegh materials. I am grateful to Marion Kaplan and Dan Fleming who morphed from teachers into friends, as well as Larry Wolff, Michah Gottlieb, Hasia Diner, and Adam Becker.
Joseph Weiler invited me to become a fellow at what was then the Tikvah Institute at NYU, an autonomous republic in Washington Square Park that he codirected with Moshe Halbertal and where all senior scholars found the time to nurture their junior fellows. Pierre Birnbaum, Jonathan Garb, Marc Hirshman, Lawrence Kaplan, James Kugel, Benjamin Sommer, and Yehoyada Amir among others have broadened my perspectives in so many ways, as has Suzanne Stone and the seminars on legal theory at the Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization. Allan Amanik, Ruth Kara-Ivanov, Yehuda and Michelle Sarna have been the best constellation of (p.x) friends. And Zalman Rothschild has since then become the best interlocutor for impromptu treatises about everything and anything.
This book required archival and manuscript work and provided a beautiful excuse to travel to Tuscany. My dear friend Francesca Bregoli connected me to Liana Funaro, a living memory of Livorno’s Jewish life, passionate researcher, and a delightful person.
I wish to thank Gabriele Bedarida for his kindness and for the pages of Italian Jewish history that he, and his wife, shared with me. I would like to extend my gratitude to the whole team at the Archive of the Jewish Community of Livorno: without their willingness to show me the three volumes of the handwritten version of Israel and Humanity, the project would have lost much of its significance. Upon hearing about my work, the scholar of Benamozegh, Alessandro Guetta, who has now moved on to other research interests, encouraged me and has never failed to be supportive since then.
My postdoctoral year at the Katz Center for Advanced Jewish Studies at the University of Pennsylvania was memorable thanks to the staff, particularly Carrie Love and Etty Lassman, and the fellows, gathered around the year’s theme on the “New Boundaries of the Wissenschaft des Judentums.” Among other accomplishments, the group took the science of portmanteau to new heights during the weekly post-colloquium Schnappstunden at the renamed MerKatz. I am grateful to the directors of the center: Steven Weitzman for his warmth and attentiveness, and David Ruderman who, before stepping down, selected me to be a fellow. Arthur Kiron, librarian extraordinaire, was an enthusiastic accomplice in all things Benamozegh.
During this postdoctoral year, I had the great fortune of working on a book of interviews with Daniel Boyarin. Our conversations, his insatiable curiosity, and his scholarship have guided me since then in more ways than one.
My colleagues in the Religion Department at Columbia have welcomed me and supported me with unsurpassed generosity and warmth. I am happy to be in their debt and very pleased to get a chance to express it here. Thanks to all of you. And I would like to particularly acknowledge Gil Anidjar, Courtney Bender, Beth Berkowitz, Elisheva Carlebach, Wayne Proudfoot, and Mark Taylor for giving me such detailed and helpful feedback on the manuscript during a formidable workshop convened by Gil—as did Moshe Halbertal, Jay Harris, Nancy Levene, Pawel Maciejko, and Shaul Magid.
At Columbia, Mark Anderson, Julie Crawford, Marianne Hirsch, Seth Kimmel, Rebecca Kobrin, Agi Legutko, Deborah Martinsen, Christia Mercer, Seth Schwartz, Joanna Stalnaker, Pier Mattia Tommasino, Eliza Zingesser, and Shanny Peer have been a trusted presence.
The Kabbalah study-group workshops at Lehigh have become a cherished rite of spring thanks to Hartley Lachter and the hevrei Ellen Haskell, Nathaniel Berman, Glenn Dynner (who also gave me formidable feedback during a workshop at the Center for Jewish History), Leora Zachs-Shmueli, and Eytan Fishbane.
When the manuscript was still very much a work-in-progress, Sarah Stein suggested that I send it to Stanford upon its completion. Sarah’s energy and scholarship are matched only by her generosity toward her junior peers. At Stanford, Margo Irvin was a thoughtful and soothing interlocutor. Readers #1 and #2 offered extraordinarily detailed comments and were a fantastic help. Gigi Mark made the whole production process seamless, and David Hornik was a wonderful copyeditor. But this manuscript would have been a disastrous piece of abstract expressionism without Paul Sager’s everjudicious comments and edits along the way.
It is also an honor to acknowledge the institutions that generously supported me through these years: the Annenberg Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, and the Nash Family Foundation—with special thanks to Dr. Judith Ginsberg; the Lenfest Grant at Columbia and the Provost Grant for Junior Faculty who contribute to the university’s diversity; and the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies at Columbia University, especially Dana Kresel.
My transatlantic journey owes a lot to Tom Reiss and a conversation started on a Parisian terrace years ago—and uninterrupted ever since. I made the final decision to come to New York with Norman and Cella Manea at a restaurant called Compass—which is what they have been for me.
From the moment I arrived in New York, Helen Nash has been my anchor. And the names of Pascale and Richard Berner, Sharon Elghanayan and Jon Corzine, Mary and Gerry Millman, George and Pamela Rohr, mean (p.xii) family to me. I would also like to thank Stéphanie Abou, Chloe Aridjis, Jacques Baudouin, Katell Berthelot, Dominique Bourel, Pierre Bouretz, Frédéric Boyer, Marie Brenner, Ron Chernow, Christopher Dye, Ed Epstein, Jon Finer, Adrien Jaulmes, Julie Just, Florence and Jacky Heyman, Delphine Horvilleur, Olga Kirschbaum, Patrick Koch, Jean-Claude Kuperminc, Rose Levyne, Martine Mairal, Jessica Marglin, Charlotte Morgan, Ruby Namdar, Gil Rubin, Simon Schama, Brigitte Sion, Toby Freilich, Katalina Rac, James Traub, and Ariel Weil.
I could not have completed this work without Pierre-Emmanuel Dauzat who, along with his wife Aude, define what an “intelligent heart” can be. Our hevruta—four thousand miles apart—has been a constant source of wonder and thankfulness. An insatiable reader and formidable essayist, Pierre-Emmanuel was also the late Tony Judt’s trusted translator, and I cannot but feel Tony’s touch in his luminous presence.
Sunt lacrimae rerum. Tony was my first adviser in the history department at NYU. He passed away of ALS in August 2010. Being his student and assistant was one of the greatest gifts of my life. The memory of his brilliance, humor, and courage will never leave those who witnessed it. Jennifer, Daniel, and Nick—this is for you, too.
I can’t help thinking that the world in which I started this project was a very different place—I miss having Philip Roth and Amos Oz in it. And, as I am putting the final touches to the manuscript in times of pandemics, the notion of—and need for—interdependence as what defines our humanity could not feel more tragic, nor more relevant.
This book is for my parents. I treasure their love and our happy times, cut so short. But the memory of my father’s laughter makes me smile as I am typing these words, and my mother’s ever-gentle presence is another reminder of the Song of Solomon: “Love is as strong as death.”