Johanna Arbib Perugia left Rome a few days ago to assume the leadership of the Jerusalem Foundation, which since 1966 has been promoting the development of Israel’s capital. She left the comfort of Italian living to witness a series of terror attacks in Israel’s capital.
“At this difficult time for Jerusalem, our hearts go out to the families of those killed and we pray for the wounded,” she immediately declared. “With the unceasing support of people in Israel and around the world who care deeply for Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Foundation continues our mission on behalf of the city and its residents.”
Witnessing terrorism is nothing new for Johanna. Last year, during the most frightening days of Hamas’ bombing of Israel’s cities, Arbib and her daughter Noa were alerted all day by the Tzeva Adom (Color Red) rocket alert siren.
Johanna Arbib today is the most important and rising personality in Italy’s Jewish Community. Born and raised in Rome, she served as the president of the International Board of Aleh, Israel’s largest network of facilities for children with severe physical disabilities. In 2007, she was elected to the Jewish Agency Board of Governors and was chosen chair of its Board Development Committee. In March 2009, she was elected as Chairman of Keren Hayesod’s World Board of Trustees: the youngest person ever to hold top leadership position.
Now, Arbib has been called to lead the Jerusalem Foundation, which develops the capital of the State of Israel and raised $800 million between 1966 and 2010.
“She is the best example of service in our generation” former MK Eliezer (Mudi) Zandberg says about Johanna Arbib Perugia. “She is the future of the Jewish people”.
This is the first interview Ms. Johanna Arbib Perugia has agreed to after assuming her new position.
How would you describe your personal involvement in Jewish philanthropy and activism? How do you explain your passion to serve the Jewish people worldwide: Aleh, Keren Hayesod, Jewish Agency and now at the Jerusalem Foundation?
Arbib Perugia: "Everyone is born with a mission in life. Some people go through life unsure of what their role should be. There are two elements that are most important to the development of my life: One is the teachings of our forefathers, the Torah. The second is the State of Israel. These are also the two components I think are most important to the Jewish people – past, present and, most importantly, future."
"My mission is to try to convey this message to as many as people as possible… It is in my blood. From the time I was a teenager, it was clear that I needed to make a contribution to the Jewish people and I knew that I would take the lead and find a way to influence decision making and also the direction of philanthropy. One of the most important values that the Torah (Holy Bible) teaches us is the value of Tikun Olam, making the world a better place. This is the value that gives me the energy to fulfill my commitment to the world.
"I am a proud Italian citizen, and I am very grateful to Italy because my family was able to rebuild its status in Italy after the war. We arrived in 1949 and where able to build a new life, integrate into Italian society, respect the values of the country, while always maintaining our traditions, and most importantly, our strong Jewish identity."
What is the role of the Jerusalem Foundation?
"The Jerusalem Foundation is a community foundation shaping a modern, unified and vibrant city by creating opportunities for all of the city's residents. We work to ensure a better future for all of the population groups in the city – haredi, national-religious, secular and Arab. With 50 years of experience and over 4,000 projects, the Jerusalem Foundation continues to strengthen and sustain the Eternal City.
"The Jerusalem Foundation works hand in hand with the Jerusalem Municipality and other organizations in the city, to identify needs and to respond to challenges. It is our role to bring together all partners and friends who care about Jerusalem, to ensure the future of the city."
Which challenges will you face at the Jerusalem Foundation?
"The challenges of the Jerusalem Foundation are the challenges of Jerusalem.
"The Foundation continues to build bridges among people, promote projects that are relevant, and create the best partnerships and have the most impact on the city to carry out our goals. The challenges are met by working to shape a modern unified and vibrant city, by creating opportunities for all Jerusalem residents, by creating opportunities for economic growth, education, helping the weaker population, arts and culture and by enhancing the contribution of Jerusalem to the world.
"We see our role and our challenge as sharing Jerusalem with partners and friends from around the world and inspire new generation to love the eternal city."
"Jerusalem is a special city, it is a gift to humanity. The wave of terrorism that Jerusalem is experiencing is brutal and cruel, Inflammatory incitement and lies from mosques, Palestinian leaders and the Islamic Movement are resulting in the murder of innocent civilians and terror in the streets of Jerusalem that attempts to disrupt the city's routine.
"There is no limit to the cruelty of murderers who use meat cleavers and kitchen knives to attack innocent people and young children. The people of Israel are strong, united and determined, and will overcome these difficult times.
"The reaction of the residents of Jerusalem is exemplary. Security forces and police are combating terrorists in the field and saving lives. People who take responsibility and act quickly and decisively protecting lives, and in many cases risking their own for saving lives. Normal citizens are uniting to bring help and support to those in need.
"All the people of Israel come together as one to protect, unite and save lives, including in many cases the lives of the Arab terrorists being treated in Israeli hospitals as equal citizens of One United Jerusalem, Capital of Israel."
Do you have confidence in the future of the State of Israel?
"Israel is a reality today, it was a reality in the past, and will be a reality in the future.
"The people of Israel have returned to their homeland after 2,000 years to settle their people and create their future. Throughout our history, and for over 2,000 years of wandering, we never forgot about our homeland, “Eretz Israel.” and continued to pray for the return of our people to our land. The people of Israel represent the oldest civilization that has survived through time, and we have done so because we have never stopped praying and hoping to return back to the land of our fathers.
"Hope is the greatest contribution of the Jewish People to humanity. And this hope, unity and faith has enabled us to survive and thrive. In the Torah there is no word for tragedy because the word tragedy does not exist. Judaism is the principle rejection of tragedy in the name of hope – and Israel and the Jewish people represent living examples of hope for the whole of humankind.
"And if someone asks what hope is – show them Israel. Show them the Jews who by having faith and hope were able to take a barren land and make it bloom, take an ancient language, Hebrew, and make it relevant, take a scattered people and make them live again.
"Hope kept the Jews alive, and Jews kept hope alive – Jews represent the hope for humanity. This is what the Jewish people:are. We are the people that have the courage to dream – and make that dream come true!"
Giulio Meotti, an Italian journalist with Il Foglio, writes a twice-weekly column for Arutz Sheva. He is the author of the book "A New Shoah", that researched the personal stories of Israel's terror victims and of "J'Accuse: the Vatican Against Israel."