The Wondering Jew

Reviewed by Orna Yoeli

by Alain Elkann
Carmel, 2008
60 pages, Hebrew

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talian intellectual Alain Elkann’s life is, in many ways, a success story. His achievements in the fields of literature and journalism are immense, and he serves today as an adviser to Sandro Bondi, the Italian minister of culture. His former wife is the daughter of Gianni Agnelli, a legendary mogul of the automobile industry and former president of Fiat. His children are heirs to that financial empire. But Elkann’s success is tempered by the sense of alienation he feels on account of his identity as an assimilated Jew, “a wandering Jew,” as his father described him. Despite the fact that these feelings are hardly unique—indeed, they place him squarely in a long tradition of modern Jewish intellectuals and artists who have struggled with their Jewish identity and its meaning—Elkann has refused to make peace with his sense of displacement. Instead, he has embarked on a tortuous journey in search of solid ground, a “homeland” in both the spiritual and emotional senses of the word. The story of this journey is the basis of Elkann’s slim volume, Mitzva,first published in Italy in 2004 and now translated into Hebrew under the title Yahaduti (“My Jewishness”).
It is evident from the start that in attempting to understand his Jewish identity, Elkann is in fact seeking to understand himself. Moreover, he clearly finds this self-examination disconcerting. He wants to provide himself and his friends, i.e., other European intellectuals, with a clear answer to the question “What does it mean ‘to feel Jewish’?” He posits that the answer is simply “Being myself.” This is ultimately not a satisfying answer for the reader, however, and one is forced to wonder if Elkann has actually succeeded in reaching that solid ground he was so desperately seeking.

Orna Yoeli is an assistant editor of

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