The shul is ornate with frescos on the ceiling and walls, incredible chandeliers and intricate tile work. The newly freed Jews built an edifice that would show the world that not only did they survive—they were flourishing. The shul is used for services on weekdays and Shabbatot. The congregants in the main sanctuary daven Roma style, which is neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardi. They uphold the traditions that have been unique to Rome for centuries. Downstairs there is a Sephardi shul; a kind of synagogue within a synagogue. This structure was developed in the Ghetto when a Papal edict decreed that each City State could house only one synagogue.
In 1982 there was a terrorist attack outside of the steps of the shul. Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a group of worshippers leaving shul on Simchat Torah. Forty people were wounded and a two-year-old boy was murdered. Since then, the Italian government has provided security for the Ghetto, every day of the year — including Christmas. According to our Ghetto tour guide, David, Italy takes care of and respects its Jewish citizens.
I guess that I had expected to find something quite different in the Ghetto. I thought that it would be more of museum that preserved the memories of those who perished there. Instead what I found is a thriving and unified community numbering around 20,000.
Undoubtedly, the spirits of those brave Roman and Spanish Jews who refused to convert still hover over the streets of the Ghetto. But they live alongside people who send their children to school, eat pizza and daven on those very same streets. Roman Jews are keeping alive a Jewish tradition that dates back over two thousand years to the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. When Titus destroyed the Beit Hamikdash in 70CE, he brought back the spoils along with Jewish slaves. The descendants of those slaves have inhabited Rome since that time.
Michael announced that the hour had arrived to daven mincha. We had exactly ten men in our little group of tourists from places like Dallas, Texas; Deerfield Beach, Florida and Brooklyn, NY. As we joined together to pray in this living testament to Jewish survival, my eyes welled with tears. It wasn’t just the lack of sleep or the utter relief to be on solid earth that made me cry. I was at once grateful that Lou had schlepped me out of Teaneck and that we were able to experience this once in a lifetime adventure together.
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