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.”
A 2018 demonstration against antisemitism in Berlin. Photo: Reuters / Fabrizio Bensch.
A slight drop in the number of antisemitic incidents in Berlin during the first half of this year is no excuse for complacency, the city’s antisemitism commissioner emphasized on Thursday following the publication of statistics for hate crimes targeting Jews in the German capital from January-June 2019.
“Antisemitism remains a serious problem that we cannot tolerate in Berlin,” Lorenz Korgel — the city’s commissioner for combating antisemitism — told local news outlet Berliner Morgenpost. “The number of antisemitic incidents remains at a high level. ”
People wear kippas at a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue denouncing an antisemitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. (photo credit: FABRIZIO BENSCH / REUTERS)
The population of the State of Israel has increased 2.1% since last year, according to a report released in time for Rosh Hashanah by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Today, there are 9.1 million citizens of Israel, of which some 6.7 million (74%) are Jewish, the report shows. The country’s citizens also include 1.9 million Arabs (21%) and 0.4% of “others,” including Christians and those of other minority groups.
A women holds up a sign against anti-Semitism at a rally in New York City on Sept. 22, 2019. Photo: Rhonda Hodas Hack.
JNS.org – Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in front of City Hall in New York on Sunday, calling on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other municipal leaders, as well as those on the national level, to act against antisemitism and the wave of antisemitic hate crimes taking place against the Orthodox Jewish community.
The beach in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 17, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Ammar Awad.
On the eve of the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, ushering in the Jewish year of 5780, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics released its traditional end-of-the-year findings.
Israel’s population now stands at 9.092 million people — 6.744 million (74.2 percent) of whom are Jews, with 1.907 million (21 percent) Arabs and 441,000 (4.8 percent) listed as “other.”
Drew Seigla and Stephanie Lynne Mason. Photo: Instagram.
Drew Seigla and Stephanie Lynne Mason play Pertshik and Hodl, whose love story takes them all the way to Siberia in the award-winning show by the National Yiddish Theatre.
Oct 25, 2019 0People arrive at a polling station to vote in the federal election in Beauce, Quebec, Canada, Oct. 21, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Mathieu Belanger. A top Jewish advocacy group said on Friday it...
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“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” — Sherlock Holmes, The Boscombe Valley Mystery
“Israel must, in the most blunt and clear way possible, illustrate to Washington that the prosperity of Jordan is a first-rate Israeli security and strategic interest.” — Former head of Mossad Ephraim Halevy at “Between Jerusalem and Amman: 25 Years Since the Signing of the Peace Agreement Between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,” Institute for National Security Studies, Sept. 25, 2019.
A thought came to mind the other day.
For all the bluster about Judaism and anti-Semitism in America, I am not convinced that far-out-left and liberal young Jews, who have been very strident and even threatening on Israel-related issues and local American political battles, have done much on the ground to confront and quash, one way or another, attacks on Jews. They have portrayed themselves as gliding along a moral highway but have permitted immoral actions to exist quite close to home, far from Gaza (did any of them recite a public Kaddish in the town square for murdered and injured Jews, or their damaged and desecrated property)?
One of the hallmark features of Yom Kippur are the communal sins which we need to repent for. Most Jews focus on what we have done personally towards G-d and towards others. Little thought is given to how we could be better as a community. Or the sins we bear as a community.
However, the communal recitation of the Al Chet, repeated over and over on Yom Kippur is to drive the point home that we are responsible for one another
Incoming freshman Member of Knesset from the leftist, Democratic Union list, Yair Golan, did it again. Golan’s constant delegitimization of his political opponents on the right, smacks of the same delegitimization that tyrants, dictators, demagogues and assorted totalitarians always use, just before the Putsch.
In that regard, he’s right when he said recently, “I’m reminding people that the Nazis came to power democratically, so we have to be careful, very careful, so that radicals with a messianic view won’t exploit Israeli democracy to replace the system of government.” Think “
As Israeli frustration mounts about violence coming out of Gaza, the idea of a ground invasion, and once and for all to finish with Hamas aggression, becomes more appealing. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has endorsed this approach, saying, “There probably won’t be a choice but to topple the Hamas regime.” While sympathetic to this impulse, I worry that too much attention is paid to tactics and not enough to goals. The result could be harmful to Israel.