Photo Credit: Jewish Press

I’m writing this column from Italy. My week here is nearly at an end. I spent my last evening at a Hotel in Rome’s Jewish Ghetto.

The popes who ruled Rome made life for its Jewish inhabitants as unpleasant as possible, stopping short of killing them that is. Even today, many of the ghetto’s buildings are in a sad and shabby state, but the sadness of their appearance is cancelled by the vibrancy and excitement of the hundreds of tourists and the laughter and vivacity of the many groups of youngsters who sit at tables outside the many kosher restaurants.


Last night I walked from there the three miles that brought me to the Colosseum and the monument to one of the Jewish people’s most dedicated adversaries, Titus.

This is my first visit to Rome. I have never been in any place that so seamlessly merges past and present into one. Wherever you walk, modern office or government buildings stand beside ancient temples or administrative buildings from the government of the Caesars.

Time seems more like a revolving door in Rome. What was and what is, seems to be whirling before your eyes so that you really can forget for a few moments which is which.

This morning, I went to shachrit prayers in the stunning Great Synagogue of Rome. It was built in 1904 after the ghetto’s tyranny finally ended and a new period free from persecution began. The Jews made their outstandingly beautiful synagogue a true kiddush Hashem but they did not want to forget their past. In this city that blends past so completely with present, there would be little point anyway. They built it beside the very ghetto that had oppressed them for centuries.

I took a seat in one of the front pews so I could see the Aron HaKodesh and the beautiful Sifrei Torah as clearly as possible. I soon realized I would have to move. Looking at the brass nameplate to see whose place I had occupied, that whirling Roman door started to spin again. Instead of a name were the words, “Ex Deportato” as did all the seats of that row. These seats recalled the Jews from this shul that had been rounded up and transported by the Nazis and Italian Fascists to death camps. That was when Rome’s ghetto outdid its old antisemitism and the blood of its Jews ran in its streets. I respectfully and humbly moved one row behind.

Yesterday I visited a different Italian town and another ghetto. About two hours north of Rome in the Tuscany countryside, high on a rocky hill, sits the little town of Pitigliano. Politically independent of the Popes and their anti-Semitic edicts, a tiny number of Jews prospered and existed happily alongside their Tuscan neighbour. The Pitigliani were farmers and the Jews were merchants. Both communities complimented each other perfectly and a respectful and friendly coexistence existed for centuries.

As time passed a Ghetto was imposed on Pitigliano’s Jews, but it was “Ghetto Lite” and rules imposing wearing a Jewish symbol were happily ignored by everyone. When a group of Napoleon’s soldiers invaded the ghetto attacking the Jews and their synagogue, their non-Jewish neighbours rallied to their defense and killed four of the French soldiers.

When the Nazis and Fascisti attempted to repeat what they had done in Rome, they failed in this little town. The farmers hid the town’s Jews in nearby caves and kept them supplied with food. The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation awarded Pitigliano and the surrounding villages, the honored title of, “A House of Life” for their solidarity and courage in protecting their Jewish neighbors.

There is a sickening irony that history shows us non-Jews who heroically stood shoulder to shoulder with Jews to protect them but also shows simultaneously, Jews who stood shoulder to shoulder with their foes.

While I was in that small Tuscan town that sits high on a rocky hill, another implacable enemy of the Jewish people was busy on another hill, plotting against the Jewish people. That hill is the one on which sits the capitol of the United States of America and the plotter was U.S. Congressperson Rashida Tlaib.

Nakba is the Palestinian’s term for the day the modern state of Israel came into being. For them it is a day of Nakba, catastrophe.

It is worthwhile pausing to consider precisely what the nature of that catastrophe was.

Just three short years after the last of the ashes of one million Jewish babies, children and their parents stopped spewing across Europe’s skies, Palestine’s Jews fought to stop their Palestinian neighbors and several Arab armies from finishing the job Hitler began.

And that was in fact, precisely the ambition of those invading Arab armies. That is not by the way, my subjective opinion, but a quote from none other than the Secretary-General of the Arab League from May 15th 1948, “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the crusades.”

That ambition has not changed from then until now. From Hamas’s charter and it’s Islamist declaration against all non-Muslims to the swastika flags hanging from buildings in Bethlehem and Gaza or the Nazi-essque rants of Abbas and the Der Sturmer contents of Palestinian children’s school books to the declarations of Iran’s leaders that they intend to “nuke” Israel. Our enemies unabashedly declare and celebrate what their ambition is. Jewish history teaches that when our enemies declare their intention to destroy us, they mean it.

The Nakba event is simply an annual day of regret and mourning that ambition has not yet come about.

So when a non-Jewish American senator loyally stands shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish people and publicly condemns two American Jewish senators who embrace and applaud their party’s most outspoken antisemites, the revolving door of Jewish history has spun more. Once again disloyal and perfidious Jews stand shoulder to shoulder with our most dedicated adversaries.


Previous articleIsrael Settlement Debate Comes to New York
Next article“If I Could Be Like…”
Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein is a popular international lecturer. He was a regular Broadcaster on BBC Radio and TV but resigned in 2022 over what he saw as its institutional anti-Semitism. He is the author of twelve books including most recently, "Truly Great Jewish Women Then and Now."