Barbara and I were married in the Grand Synagogue in Rome in a ceremony that dates back to the fall of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Refugees from the ancient center of the Jewish people came in significant numbers to Rome (many as Roman slaves; the story is famously illustrated on the Arch of Titus in the Forum), and to this day both the liturgy and the melodies of Jewish worship are believed to be those celebrated in the Jerusalem temple. Our marriage was in the old Spanish (or Sicilian) synagogue beneath the Grand Synagogue, which was built at the turn of the 20th century.
So I took great pleasure from the news that the Grand Synagogue has now been illuminated, thanks to a joint venture involving the Jewish Community, the electric company, and the city government. The Jewish Community is the city’s oldest, and it’s entirely appropriate that the city should single out the synagogue as one of its landmarks.
When the synagogue was completed, the dome was made of highly reflective metal, which made the structure stand out on the Roman skyline. In time, the metal was removed, and the temple now regains its prominence in the night, and, as Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni movingly reminded the citizens of the city, it brings to mind the first lines of the Old Testament, when God created light. “Light was the first divine creation,” he said.
There’s the light of the sun, and light from other sources. But that which shined in the first day of creation was the holiest, the most powerful, primordial energy, which remains hidden until better times. We hope, symbolically, that the light we turn on tonight reminds us of that primordial one, which is reserved for the righteous.
The dome is now illuminated by modern LED technology, thanks to some 44 projectors. Probably the best place from which to see it is Piazza Garibaldi, up on the hill on the other side of the Tiber. When you look down, and if you then take a stroll through the neighborhood, you should brush up on the recent history of the Roman Jews, from the Holocaust to the present.
Most people do not realize that Italy surrendered to, and then joined, the Allies during the Second World War (Rome fell to a joint US-UK army on D-Day, in fact). In the process, Mussolini was overthrown, fascism was abolished, a military government was installed, and the country was taken over by Hitler’s armies. The Roman Jews were rounded up by the occupying Nazi forces in October, 1943. If you walk through the Jewish neighborhood, until very recently still called “the Ghetto, you will see bronze markets in front of the buildings from which the Jews were dragged off, ultimately to Auschwitz.
Some returned, some fought the Nazis all over the country. In Rome itself, a group of Jews organized a resistance group that fought throughout the occupation, and continued to defend the Jewish Community afterwards. Unlike most other European Jews, the Romans learned a fundamental lesson: the state was not going to defend them against the anti-Semites. If they were going to survive, they would have to defend themselves. So they studied self-defense, getting help from the security forces (notably the carabinieri), and later from the Israelis.
Remember, if you ever knew, that Italy was uniquely free of an indigenous anti-Jewish movement. Indeed, by World War I there had already been two Jewish prime ministers, and the Jewish defense forces had plenty of popular support. In direct contrast with the rest of the old continent, Italy’s Jews seem to be flourishing. In Rome alone there are now roughly twenty synagogues. Chabad is very active, especially in the north. There is a revival of Judaism in the south, most surprisingly in Sicily, where Jewish Communities are reemerging for the first time since the Inquisition. Kosher food is suddenly very popular, especially in Rome.
Indeed, one of the greatest fans of kosher food is none other than His Holiness, Pope Francis. When his Jewish friends come to visit from Buenos Aires, the pope sends out for kosher takeout, and not just to cater to his guests’ culinary requirements. He loves it.
So when you hear that the European Jews are destined to leave, and that European antisemitism is relentlessly rising, keep in mind the words of Ruth Dureghello, the president of the Rome Jewish Community. The illumination of the Grand Synagogue, she said, “is a victory…it is a signal that we don’t wish to hide…we are our Jewish history, we wish to be a light for the future.”
An Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria, March 4, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Leonhard Foeger / File.
The acting chief of the UN nuclear watchdog policing Iran‘s nuclear deal with major powers, Cornel Feruta, will meet senior Iranian officials in Tehran on Sunday, a spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Friday.
“The visit is part of ongoing interactions between the IAEA and Iran,” the spokesman said
The headquarters of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) in Tel Aviv. Photo: Screenshot.
The World Zionist Organization (WZO) on Friday opened a three-day conference in Santiago, the capital of Chile, on the topic of confronting antisemitism in Latin America.
Convened by WZO vice-chair Yaakov Hagoel, the conference will involve 150 Jewish professionals from around the region who will receive briefings from “high-level experts in the field to deal with the growing phenomenon,” the Spanish-language Jewish news outlet Diario Judio reported.
Russian immigrants (new olim) attend an event marking the 25th anniversary of the great Russian aliyah to Israel from the former Soviet Union at the Jerusalem Convention Center on Dec. 24, 2015. Photo: Hadas Parush/Flash90.
JNS.org – For most olim, moving to Israel is the realization of a dream. After years of hoping and planning, making aliyah and taking root in the Jewish state is a joyous and exultant experience. Still, the big move is not without its challenges, and many new immigrants become frustrated while attempting to navigate Israeli bureaucracy, secure a job, and find the right neighborhood to call home.
Taglit-Birthright Israel trip participants visit the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, Aug. 18, 2014. Photo: Flash90.
JNS.org – “It’s so much more.” That’s the mantra of the 54 Jewish young adults from across North America who just wrapped up 10 weeks in Israel.
Sure, they had applied to the Birthright Israel Excel program for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to intern at Israeli offices of such top global companies as Facebook, Visa, Microsoft, Ernst & Young (EY), and Barclay’s.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announced that the State Department will consider allowing U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem to list “Jerusalem, Israel” on their U.S. passports.
“We’re constantly evaluating the way we handle what can be listed on passports,” he told JNS in a wide-ranging interview. “It’s something that’s actively being looked at.”
The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry responded to this in a statement published in Wafa News saying the move was “an emphasis by the administration of President Donald Trump to antagonize the Palestinian people and undermine any chance for peace on the basis of a two-state solution.”
Sep 08, 2019 0Father Vladimir Tobin (courtesy: screenshot) HALIFAX, Nova Scotia – A Christian Orthodox priest in Nova Scotia was forced to retire after delivering a sermon that honored Judaism and Israel...
If you’re Jewish, how afraid should you be of being a victim of a violent anti-Semitic hate crime? In the wake of the Pittsburgh and Poway synagogue shootings in the last year, many American Jews remain afraid. The specter of white-supremacist hate that fueled those and other mass shootings has become the primary focus of those tasked with fighting and monitoring anti-Semitism.
If the use of Nazi symbolism in fashion was manifested in isolated cases, there would be only slight cause for concern. But when this trend is backed or glossed over by giants such as Amazon, the biggest online sales platform in the world, we cannot remain indifferent. From home decor to clothing and accessories, the popular website is infested with products depicting Holocaust victims heading to the gas chambers and images glorifying the Third Reich.
When the Second Intifada broke out in 2000, Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin boasted that the desire of his people for death in the service of Hamas was greater than the Israelis’ desire to live. Yassin, of course, was not referring to himself; happy to send his people off to die, he himself clung to life and even believed that his advanced age and status would protect him. But nothing lasts forever, and in March 2004, he was killed in an Israeli airstrike.
Egypt’s leading authorities have reinstated a notoriously “radical” cleric and hate preacher to the pulpit (minbar), despite strong opposition.
According to Arab Weekly, “The Egyptian Ministry of Religious Endowments, which controls the mosques, gave Yasser Burhami, the deputy head of the Salafist Call, the umbrella organisation of Salafi movements, approval to deliver sermons before Friday prayers at the Wise Caliphs Mosque in Alexandria.”
This week’s Torah reading Shoftim, maps out for us, the ideal national structure, of the Jewish people in their homeland, the Land of Israel. It describes the policies that Jews should be striving to implement today: Malchut/Kingdom, Sanhedrin/Torah, Nevuah/Prophecy, and Kehunah/Temple.