ROME – Rome was called the “Eternal City” by the ancient Romans because they believed that no matter what happened in the rest of the world, the city of Rome would always remain standing. Exploring the city centre by foot surrounded by glorious monuments and colossal remains takes you back in time to the “glory that was Rome”.
Jewish Rome: The first Jews in Rome came directly from Israel in 160 B. C. It was Chanukah and the Maccabees decided to travel as ambassadors to Rome in order to ask for protection from the Romans against the Syrian King Antiochus who had been giving the Jews in Palestine a hard time. This small group of Jews settled and created the first community in the Golah. All that happened more than 2,000 years ago…and still we thrive here today, after the Inquisition, the persecutions, the Ghetto and the concentration camps. There are only 16,000 Jews in Rome, yet we are the oldest community in this city. We never moved from here. We have been witness to so much change, yet our traditions and values still remain strong while living a Jewish life in a society based around Christianity. The Jewish Rome is, however, more extensive than the ancient perimeter of the ghetto. All over Rome you can attend and visit many temples with different customs – Sephardic, Italian, Moadim – and discover the traces of Jewish presence even in the Roman Forum or the archaeological site of Ostia Antica.
Naples, Italy – Naples, a city in southern Italy, sits on the Bay of Naples. Nearby is Mount Vesuvius, the still-active volcano that destroyed nearby Roman town Pompeii. Dating to the 2nd millennium B.C., Naples has centuries of important art and architecture. The city’s cathedral, the Duomo di San Gennaro, is filled with frescoes. Other major landmarks include the lavish Royal Palace and Castel Nuovo, a 13th-century castle.
Florence/Pisa (Livorno), Italy – One art piece of Jewish themed art dominates this beautiful city is David, created by the artist Michelangelo.
Just across the Ponte Vecchio, in the maze of old lanes that face the Pitti Palace, is the via Ramagliau (once called Via dei Giudei or “Street of the Jews”) which remains unchanged from the Renaissance. The streets are about 10 feet wide and are framed in by gray and yellow, three story houses with brown shutters.
The famous Duomo, was started in 1296, and what most people don’t see, are the wooden side doors on the south side of the cathedral, where one can see one Tablet of the Law with the first five commandments written in Hebrew. Another set of carved doors were started in 1425 and finished in 1452. They are the 10 carved panels on the doors of the Baptistery, which represent 10 scenes from the Bible as carved by Lorenzo Ghiberti.
The famous Medici ruler and humanist Lorenzo the Magnificent invited Sephardic Jews to settle in Florence in the fifteenth century because he wanted to have international traders and bankers in the city state. Even when the ghetto existed, restrictions were not so rigorously enforced, so Florence became a safe haven for Jewish refugees fleeing from Spain and the other Papal States. When Napoleon opened the gates of the ghetto, it was not such an enormous change as elsewhere. Again, in Florence the occupation of the Germans meant that about one-fourth of the community, including the rabbi, were sent to the death camps.
Cannes, France – Cannes, a resort town on the French Riviera, is famed for its international film festival. Its Boulevard de la Croisette, curving along the coast, is lined with sandy beaches, upmarket boutiques and palatial hotels. It’s also home to the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, a modern building complete with red carpet and Allée des Étoiles – Cannes’ walk of fame.
Barcelona, Spain – The capital of Catalonia, northern Spain
As of 2008 there were approximately 4,000 Jews living in Barcelona, making it Spain’s second-largest Jewish community. Barcelona’s Jewish community is diverse, and includes Jews who came from North Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. There are five different synagogues serving the different communities and traditions, including the Modern Orthodox Comunidad Israelita de Barcelona, a Chabad, and the Reform Comunitat Jueva Atid de Catalunya. The community also includes a kosher butcher and a Jewish school, which enrolls 220 Jewish and non-Jewish students from kindergarten through 10th grade.
A 2001 construction project uncovered approximately 500 tombstones in the medieval Jewish cemetery in Mondjuic (“Mountain of the Jews”). The cemetery was recognized as an official landmark in 2007.
In the late 20th century a man named Miguel Iaffa, working from a book published by the historian Juame Riera in 1987, identified the building that once housed a synagogue dating to 1306. Iaffa bought the building, and began restoring the synagogue. The restoration continued until 2002, after which it was open to the public.