“But what do you think about the current situation in Israel?” someone asked me last night after a lecture in a synagogue in Rome. “It wasn’t discussed.”
I answered that it was the only subject that was discussed. We began with the Arch of Titus, built to celebrate the conquest of ancient Israel by the Romans. The exiled Jews together with the vessels of the destroyed Holy Temple were sculpted on the arch. Those living in Rome today have the arch close by and for them it may be no big deal. But to come here from Jerusalem 2,000 years after the destruction and to see our exiled ancestors depicted on the arch was an extremely emotional experience for me.
We also spoke about our enemies throughout the generations who were glad to see us lacking in unity for then they thought they could triumph over us. As Haman said of us when issuing his edict for our destruction: “There is a certain scattered people . . .” In a similar context, Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, expressed satisfaction about the protests in Israel. And yet, in the end, those who have sought to destroy us disappeared into the dustbin of history, while we are still here and thriving.
We also spoke a great deal about the approaching holiday of Pesach. About the Haggadah of Pesach, which tells the story of a kind of reform that everyone can embrace: the Exodus from Egypt, which delegitimized the concept of slavery for all time. It was a reform that began in Egypt with the leadership of Moses, led to Mount Sinai and the giving of the Torah, and ended in conquest and settlement of the Land of Israel.
We also spoke about the fact that nearly all Jews in Israel today (93% according to one survey) celebrate Pesach. Seder night recalls the magnificent story that we all share, that we have a common destiny, and that we are united in a most profound way. Even when we appear divided with an uncertain future, our underlying unity is stronger than any disagreement among us.
After the presentation, I heard the latest news from Israel. But it seemed that in Italy tonight, we had somehow covered the current situation.
On Coming Full Circle
I was a young teenager when I began to keep kosher. As Pesach drew near, my dear parents thought it would be much easier for me to observe Pesach according to halacha with my uncle, Amos Guetta, in Rome. And so I arrived at the home of Amos and Smadar and their daughters, was introduced to the Jewish community of Rome, and attended services at Beit El, their Tripolitanian synagogue.
Seder night was full of their customs and the following night there was a second Seder, as is done in the Diaspora. It was the first Pesach when I went an entire week without eating chametz.
Last night I returned to the same synagogue to speak. It was not in the plans of that girl from Israel to return here one day and deliver a Torah talk, but now I had come full circle.
I began by thanking the members of the Beit El synagogue for that first Pesach 25 years earlier. I said that this was what Pesach was all about – to invite, to host, to include others.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once said: “Our purpose on Pesach is to transform history into biography.” To connect ourselves – and as many other people as we can – to our common story.
Translation by Yehoshua Siskin