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Regards from Rome!

Regards from Rome!

Friday, 1 July, 2016 - 1:11 pm

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One of the great benefits of large families is that there are lots of reasons to celebrate! Last week, we had the great fortune of attending the beautiful wedding of our brother and new sister-in-law in Fuigi, Italy about an hour south east of Rome. Friends and family came from near and far for a truly joyous affair.

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We were excited to be so close to one of the oldest Jewish Communities in the world in Rome. Since 69 CE, when Rome conquered Jerusalem and exiled her sons and daughters as depicted on the infamous Arch of Titus, Jews have lived here in an unbroken sequence.

Interestingly, the only place Jews were allowed to live in Rome for hundreds of years, was in the ghetto - a mere 900 feet by 600 feet - in which almost 10,000 Jews lived at its peak in the nineteenth century. This area was chosen for the Jews since it lay adjacent to the Tiber River which would flood the entire ghetto each year, rendering any investment and construction by the Jews futile. Needless to say, illness and disease spread through the ghetto at alarming pace. Ironically, today this awful ghetto is the most expensive real estate in all of Rome!

Adding insult to injury, the Pope decreed that Jews be forced to attend weekly Sabbath Sermons at the Churches outside the gates of the Ghetto. Legend has it that the Jews refused to listen to these heretical sermons by stuffing their ears with leftover wax from their Shabbos candles. Frustrated by their insubordination, the church engraved Biblical texts alluding to the stubbornness of the Jews above the doors of the Church as pictured here.

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More than anything, I was fascinated by the majesty ad splendor of the magnificent Shul in Rome, built soon after the Ghetto was abolished in 1870. A massive draw for tourists to this very day, yet still very much in use, this beautiful Shul serves as a monument of Jewish resilience through the harshest of times. Though they weren’t allowed to build its dome taller than that of the church, the Roman Synagogue’s dome was slightly lower than that of the Sistine Chapel. Once the Vatican seceded from Italy in 1929, the Dome of the Roman Synagogue became the tallest dome in all of Rome, towering above those of its more than 900 churches!

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The inside of the dome tells a fascinating story: As seen in the picture, the dome is decorated with a rainbow, two evergreen trees and two palm trees. The rainbow, which recalls the oath G-d made to Noah never to flood the earth again, was very meaningful to the Roman Jewish Community that was flooded each year by the Tiber River.

The Evergreen trees were one of the symbols of the Roman Empire. Like the Evergreen tree which is always in season, the Romans believed themselves to be immortal. Like the pine cones spread seeds of new trees, the Romans believed themselves to be ever expanding. And like the Evergreen, which allows nothing to grow under its branches as it sucks all the water for itself, the Romans would completely dominate all peoples that came under their wing.

So why would the Jews include these Roman symbols of power, immortality, and expansion in their new Shul?

The answer lies in the two palm trees - symbols of the Jewish People and the Land of Israel. When the Bible speaks of Israel being blessed with honey, it refers not to the honey of bees, but to the honey of date palms. Honey is the longest lasting substance known to mankind. Honey has been found in the catacombs beneath the pyramids four thousand years later and it's still edible! In response to the Roman Empire’s aspirations for immortality, the palm trees on the dome of the Roman Synagogue pay homage to the truly eternal people - the Jewish People.

Evergreens can last a long time, but honey is forever. The millions of tourists visiting Rome each year all see the broken down ruins of this ancient empire, washed away by the sands of time and rendered irrelevant by the vicissitudes of millennia. But those who visit the Roman ghetto find no ruins of the Jewish People - instead they find six (!!!) kosher restaurants in the ghetto, which spill out throughout the piazza due to the overwhelming amount of patrons. Without a prior reservation, you can’t get a seat at these delicious establishments that serve kosher food on the highest level.

As our children ran happily through the ruins of Roman coliseums, walkways and arches, tzitzis and yarmulkes flying in the wind - Chana and I smiled at each other, knowing that the dream of the builders of the Roman Synagogue had been fulfilled. The palm tree had indeed outlived the evergreens - Judaism is flourishing and the only Romans to be found are Israelis dressed in costume at the Coliseum trying to make a few bucks in photo ops!

Within our own city too, lies the secret of Jewish immortality. Palm Beach speaks of the eternity of the date honey. The palm tree is our special connecting to the land of Israel and the eternal people of Israel. Everyone likes to make a good investment that provides solid returns. Let us meditate upon the secret of the date palm and make sure to invest our resources in the best investment known to mankind, the one that has outlived all its peers, the holy Torah and the Jewish People!

Wishing you a Shabbos sweet as honey,

Rabbi Dovid & Chana Vigler

Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens 
6100 PGA Blvd. Palm Beach Gardens FL 33418
www.JewishGardens.com | 561.624.2223

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