Friday, May 2, 2014
Today we visited the Jewish Ghetto. Our tour guide first led us through the museum, and the first room of the museum was surrounded by beautifully designed cloth that the museum had restored. What is amazing about these fabrics is that they are all able to be traced back to the original families that had owned them, which I think is really cool that the museum knows their origin. As we walked through the museum, our tour guide explained to the group the basics of Jewish life, including holidays like Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and Jewish marriage and birth. She then moved on to telling us more about the history behind the Jewish Community here in Rome. The Jewish Ghetto was built here in 1556 and lasted until 1870. The Ghetto was enclosed by a large barrier, and the Jews who lived here had a curfew and were locked in at night. The Ghetto was below the level of the river close by so when the River flooded, so did the Ghetto. The Jews were released from the Ghetto in 1870 because of the unification of Italy, and the Jews were now recognized members of Italian society. Soon after came WWII. There were 10,000 Jews living in Rome at the time, and unfortunately around 2,000 of them were taken by the Nazis to concentration camps where they didn’t survive. However, the remaining 8,000 Jews were taken into hiding by Roman Christians. This speaks volumes on the kind of relationship these two religious groups had back then, which continues on today. We visited two synagogues, both of which were absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures, but like most beautiful buildings in Rome, a picture doesn’t do it justice. After our museum tour Stephanie bought us ‘Jewish Pizza’ from a little bakery in the Ghetto. The bakery smelled absolutely delicious, like freshly baked bread, raisins and cinnamon. A few hours later we had a guest speaker come talk to our group. Her name is Lisa Billig, an Austrian born Jew who grew up in America and then moved to Italy where she raised a family. She was born right before the war started, and said her father who traveled a lot for work could ‘sense’ what was happening throughout Europe and didn’t see a future there for his family. He went to Cuba and got visas so he could move his family to New York. She spoke about the many intercultural religion and peace organizations she has been a part of, and her opinions of what is happening today in Rome. One of the most memorable things she said in my opinion was that the only way to save our world is to cultivate individual thought and responsibility. Overall, today was a great day; one that I had been looking forward to since the beginning of the trip.