| LifeTakes |

When in Rome

Many faceless, nameless people passed us with a shalom, a smile, something to show we were connected, we were brothers

 

Have you ever paid attention to the song of the birds as the world turns dark?

They gather at dusk. As the night draws in, faint hues of the setting sun fighting the incoming darkness, the birds converge. Same song, different tree, different location, every night.

Yet they know where to go.

There’s animated chirping, birds singing in unison, and then all is quiet. A cloud forms as thousands of wings flap farewell until tomorrow.

I’ve always wondered about the birds: How do they know where to gather?

In Rome, I found my answer.

It was a short trip; see the sights, circuit the city, head back home.

Along with the masses of tourists, we inspected the Old City, seat of one of the mightiest empires, cradle of our current culture.

We inspected the Arch of Titus, a remembrance of the most brutal time in our nation’s history; we toured the Colloseum, great and mighty, built on the blood of over 12,000 Jewish slaves, the place where Jews were sent to battle hungry lions.

It is the seat of depravity, symbol of murder, the end of our people’s proudest era.

But from among the masses, I found my brothers.

 

They found me, actually. Strolling along, with my husband unabashedly wearing a large head covering and billowing tzitzis, we were stopped. In all languages, with all accents, out of the woodwork came our brothers. Indistinguishable from the rest of the masses, Asians and Europeans and Americans.

Some wanted to know where they could find kosher food; others wanted information about tefillah and the synagogue. Others asked for directions to the Jewish Quarter. And some wanted nothing more than to show us they were part of our nation, in this city of many cultures. Many faceless, nameless people passed us with a shalom, a smile, something to show we were connected, we were brothers.

The main awakening was at the synagogue.

The Great Synagogue of Rome, a beautiful structure built on the banks of the Tiber, tells of the greatness of our people in the harshest of times. To pray, we needed to wait in line for a security check, reminiscent of the airport.

The synagogue is beautiful, covered by a square-based dome in a city filled with spires. But the real beauty was in the crowd.

The chazzan began, in a beautiful, ancient nusach, his voice reverberating through the great hall.

Peering around the great hall, with its floating roof, intricate architecture and art, I noticed the people spread through the pews. Every sect was represented, including those with no affiliation at all.

There were velvet chassidic hats and long coats, white shirts, colorful shirts, no shirts, long coats formerly worn by Roman Jews no longer seen in our parts of the world. Large kippahs and small ones, pink and knitted, and ones that seemed to sit uncomfortably on normally bare heads. And yet they came, my brothers. Like homing birds, back to their nests.

The women’s gallery was full, too; on a regular Tuesday, they gathered to pray together. Those with arms and legs covered, those without. There were pants and pashminas, dresses and dungarees. Women united in fervent prayer.

It mattered not who you were, or what you wore; it mattered not who you voted for, how you spent your time. It mattered that you were part of us, part of this beautiful nation, survivors of the depravity emanating from the city.

It was another Tuesday in Rome, city steeped in statues and spires, and brothers united in prayer.

As we walked along the banks of the great Tiber in the gathering twilight, its waters still and placid, I heard the song. Above, in the towering cedars lining the shore, birds had gathered for their few minutes of unity.

Because the heart pulls you to where you belong.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 700)

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