A diplo­mat re­dis­cov­ers his her­itage FAM­ILY

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - SARAH EBNER

AN­THONY LUZ­ZATTO Gardner has an air of priv­i­lege about him but I’m not sure he knows it. He is po­lite, charm­ing (al­beit with more than a hint of steel) and ex­tremely in­tel­li­gent. But, hav­ing spent a life­time mov­ing in the cir­cles of the welle­d­u­cated elite, he rep­re­sents the kind of Amer­i­can es­tab­lish­ment Demo­crat so dis­missed by Don­ald Trump in the 2016 elec­tion cam­paign — an elec­tion which cost Luz­zatto Gardner his job.

Un­til Jan­uary last year, Luz­zatto Gardner was Amer­ica’s am­bas­sador to the EU, ap­pointed by Barack Obama — who Gardner sup­ported from his early days as a Se­na­tor. Like other po­lit­i­cally ap­pointed en­voys, he was or­dered to va­cate his post be­fore the in­au­gu­ra­tion. A Trump gov­ern­ment is not one he would have found pos­si­ble to work for in any case — but more on that later.

The 54-year-old’s back­ground is, nat­u­rally, im­pres­sive. He grew up in Man­hat­tan, and also in Rome, where his fa­ther was US am­bas­sador. He grad­u­ated from Phillips Academy, one of Amer­ica’s top public schools (alumni in­clude both Ge­orge H and Ge­orge W Bush), and from there went to Har­vard (where else?), Ox­ford, Columbia Law School, and the Lon­don Busi­ness School. His own chil­dren, now 17 and 15 at­tend top Bri­tish board­ing schools (Har­row and St Mary’s As­cot) and he has spent a life­time in law, gov­ern­ment and fi­nance.

But Luz­zatto Gardner is a lot more than the sum of those very priv­i­leged parts. His life has been no­madic, and he freely ad­mits that he has been search­ing for “be­long­ing”. It was that search which brought him to Italy last Oc­to­ber, where he and his fam­ily took part in a very spe­cial re­li­gious cer­e­mony.

So, how did this tech­no­cratic ex-am­bas­sador come to be wrapped in a tal­lit, cry­ing with emo­tion af­ter read­ing from the To­rah in Venice? It’s a long story.

Luz­zatto Gardner’s up­bring­ing meant no bar­mitz­vah, de­spite his fam­ily be­ing openly Jewish. It was an omis­sion he came to re­gret, even more so be­cause his own fa­ther, Richard (who taught at Columbia Law School and was also US Am­bas­sador to Spain) had been given one.

“My par­ents, like many Amer­i­cans, de­cided not to do that for their chil­dren,” he says rue­fully. “Many peo­ple of his gen­er­a­tion didn’t want to be iden­ti­fied. He was al­ways — to be clear — proud of be­ing Jewish and never, ever tried to hide it in any way, but he never felt re­li­gious and didn’t want to be iden­ti­fied as ob­vi­ously, Jewish. His name, by the way, was Gold­berg and was changed by his fa­ther.”

The lack of a for­mal cer­e­mony ran­kled, but was prob­a­bly no sur­prise, as the fam­ily didn’t mark any Jewish fes­ti­vals. “I al­ways felt it was a shame,” Luz­zatto Gardner re­veals, adding that he did cel­e­brate the fes­ti­vals at univer­sity.

Luz­zatto Gardner’s fam­ily were, in many ways, typ­i­cally Amer­i­can — in a melt­ing pot way. His fa­ther was Amer­i­can (with Ger­man an­ces­try) while his mother’s fam­ily came from Italy, part of the fa­mous Luz­zat­tos who had been in Venice since the 1500s. Danielle Luz­zatto (An­thony’s mother) left Italy in 1939, af­ter Mus­solini passed a num­ber of an­ti­semitic laws, forc­ing Jewish cit­i­zens to flee. The fam­ily spent a year and a half in France and ended up, via Lis­bon, in New York

His fam­ily back­ground has al­ways been im­por­tant to Luz­zatto Gardner — in fact, he added his mother’s maiden name to his af­ter her death in 2008. And, when he de­cided that he wanted to ex­plore his spir­i­tual side, he was de­ter­mined that the cer­e­mony would ref­er­ence his her­itage.

Luz­zatto Gardner spent many sum­mers in

Rome and

Venice with his grand­par­ents, who moved back to Italy af­ter the war. Aged 14, he moved there too, af­ter his fa­ther was ap­pointed US am­bas­sador to Italy by Pres­i­dent Carter.

“I knew I was go­ing to live in Europe [when I was grown up] to be hon­est with you,” he says. And he was right. He has been here — in Brus­sels, Lon­don and Florence — since 1990.

Luz­zatto Gardner, you soon re­alise, is a man used to get­ting what he wants — not in a loud, de­mand­ing Trump way, but in a qui­eter, per­sua­sive, ef­fec­tive way. He some­how man­aged to get per­mis­sion from the Archbishop of Toledo to marry his de­vout Catholic wife, Ale­jan­dro, in the place they wanted — a for­mer syn­a­gogue, which had been turned into a church and is now a mu­seum. So when it came to want­ing his Jewish cer­e­mony to hap­pen in a spe­cific place, at the Luz­zatto Syn­a­gogue (named for his mother’s fam­ily) in the Venice Ghetto, you wouldn’t have wanted to bet against him. It took two years, but, of course, it hap­pened.

“I wanted my chil­dren, par­tic­u­larly my son, who feels more strongly about it, to have a sense of at­tach­ment to the city, Venice, and to Ju­daism,” Luz­zatto Gardner ex­plains.

The cer­e­mony was at­tended by Luz­zatto Gardner’s friend, Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand, who helped him with his learn­ing (and was there in a per­sonal, not su­per­vi­sory ca­pac­ity), and ten rel­a­tives, in­clud­ing Luz­zatto Gardner’s sis­ter and Ital­ian cousins. His fa­ther, now 90, did not travel to Italy.

“There was a spir­i­tual con­nec­tion, but what was very mov­ing was to read from a text that we’d been read­ing from for thou­sands of years,” he says, ad­mit­ting that the cer­e­mony was ex­tremely emo­tional and that he — and his fam­ily — cried.

Nei­ther of his chil­dren had their own bar or bat­mitz­vah be­cause Luz­zatto Gardner’s wife is not Jewish, and he is keen to stress that the cer­e­mony — which took place on a Sun­day — was not a bar­mitz­vah ei­ther. But he is clearly still en­thused about it, say­ing it was “even bet­ter” than he could have imag­ined. He taught him­self to read bib­li­cal He­brew (he al­ready speaks Ital­ian, Span­ish, French, Ger­man and Rus­sian) and was ex­tremely moved.

It’s in­ter­est­ing to hear Luz­zatto Gardner — who does not come across as an overly in­tense man — talk so emo­tion­ally of the ex­pe­ri­ence. When I ask if it has changed him, he pauses. “Wow. Yes, prob­a­bly, I think it has, ac­tu­ally, I think it has.”

He ex­plains: “Partly it’s an is­sue of get­ting older and the im­por­tance of feel­ing rooted in some­thing.

“In fact, dur­ing the cer­e­mony we said this to the chil­dren, and I ac­tu­ally be­lieve it, ‘If you don’t have roots, you can’t branch out.’ If you don’t know where you’re from, you don’t know where you’re go­ing. Maybe it’s a bit trite, but I think it’s very, very true, be­cause I’ve no­ticed that

peo­ple who An­thony Luz­zatto Gar­dener and his son Ni­co­las go astray are of­ten peo­ple who don’t know who they are, who don’t have a sense of feel­ing very com­fort­able in their own skin.”

Luz­zatto Gardner, who is also a for­mer di­rec­tor for Euro­pean Af­fairs on the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, freely ad­mits that “some­thing was miss­ing” in his life. Ju­daism, it seems, has helped to fill that gap, spir­i­tu­ally and in­tel­lec­tu­ally.

“For ex­am­ple, not be­ing able to read He­brew, not be­ing able to fol­low a ser­vice, I thought was kind of strange,” he says. “I felt it was a hole that needed to be filled.”

He says he will con­tinue to study, and “loves” the cul­ture of tex­tual ex­am­i­na­tion. He now prays pri­vately and has am­bi­tions to study Kab­balah through the teach­ings of his an­ces­tor, the 18th cen­tury Ital­ian Jewish rabbi and philoso­pher, Moshe Chaim Luz­zatto, also known by the He­brew acro­nym RaMCHaL.

He has no plans to re­turn to the US, and is es­pe­cially dis­ap­pointed by its new Pres­i­dent. He was ex­pect­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton to win the 2016 elec­tion and as­sumed he would stay on as am­bas­sador for at least a year. Brexit and the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Trump clearly shook his world.

Not scared of speak­ing his mind, Gardner ex­plains: “many of the things that we’re see­ing in the United States I thought were only pos­si­ble, frankly, in un­der­de­vel­oped coun­tries with weak demo­cratic sys­tems.”

He’s sim­i­larly con­cerned about Brexit — not sur­pris­ing for an ex-EU am­bas­sador.

“The de­ci­sion’s been taken, let’s get on with it, let’s make sure Brexit works. But what re­ally trou­bles me, I think it trou­bles ev­ery per­son, and I would even ar­gue it should trou­ble Jews par­tic­u­larly, is this coun­try has changed.

“When judges are at­tacked the way they’ve been at­tacked, when the me­dia is at­tacked the way they’ve been at­tacked, when Tory MPs have re­cently been at­tacked as sabo­teurs, mu­ti­neers, for speak­ing their mind, and when the gov­ern­ment doesn’t re­act, par­tic­u­larly to the at­tack on the ju­di­ciary, some­thing has changed. And I find it very trou­ble­some.”

And this staunch Demo­crat ad­mits that, were he a UK voter, he would be con­cerned about the pos­si­bil­ity of a Cor­byn gov­ern­ment.

“I’ve been a Demo­crat all my life, right? But I’d be a cen­tre right voter in Europe,” he says. “And, I’ll say it: the al­ter­na­tive makes me wor­ried. Some of the things that peo­ple in his party have said are se­ri­ously dis­turb­ing.”

But he’s not one to stand back and still has hope:

“I’m a pretty op­ti­mistic per­son. Partly be­cause the world isn’t changed by pes­simists,” he says with a smile, adding: “It’s time for peo­ple that stand up for what they be­lieve in.

“I be­lieve in fight­ing, I re­ally do. I be­lieve in fight­ing for what you be­lieve in. There’s no other way.”

I be­lieve RW »PQ]ing, I re­ally do. There’s no other way

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