Tag Archives: Jewish Roma

How I Learned That I Really Am 60 Years Old

9 Jul

I admit it; I am 60. It happened suddenly. One day I was 25 and getting married. And moments later I was 60, married for 35 years and had two adult children. How did it happen? I am not sure. But I will tell you that I do not feel 60. In my mind I am much younger. How old, I am not sure; but definitely NOT 60.

I walk between 2 – 5 miles daily. I exercise. I work. I volunteer. I do word puzzles. I write. I read. I crochet. I visit with friends. I shop. I keep moving. I am mildly obsessive and overly concerned at times. Most people I meet do not think I am 60, except perhaps for the grey hair. I do not get my haired dyed. And many times I am in a room with women my age and older, and I am the only one with grey hair. So I guess that might indicate my advancing age.

But recently, I realized that in fact I was 60. I realize that being 60 has made a few changes in my life and how others view me. Perhaps, it is just others who do not really know me.

It happened in Rome. My husband and I arrived on a Wednesday, arriving at our hotel about 11 am. Once we got into a room we decided to go exploring. Close to the hotel was the Castle of Saint Angelo, a lovely spot to investigate. We spent hours there going room to room, inside and out, lost in the corridors that date back centuries.

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The Castle of Saint Angelo.

We finally found our way out and walked back to our hotel for a nap before a meeting and dinner. Imagine our surprise when our host arrived 45 minutes early. We were tired, but we got it together. He took us to tour the Basilica of San Paola and its cloister. Then to the Bambino Gesu Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Rome, for a short tour and where my husband presented a talk to the allergy section. From there it was out to dinner with 13 others for a five-course Roman meal….delicious. And then a two-mile walk to what we were told was the best gelato in all of Rome, the Gelateria Frigidarium. It was delicious. But we did not get back to our hotel till midnight.

The Great Synagogue in Rome, Italy

The Great Synagogue in Rome, Italy

Now after traveling for 20 hours, touring and a giant meal and gelato, I was tired. But with jet lag, I still did not sleep that well. And we had to be at the Jewish Quarter by ten in the morning for a three-hour tour organized by Jewish Roma. We did it. It was wonderful. We ate lunch in the Jewish Quarter then grabbed a taxi to get to the Vatican where we had another, 2:30 pm tour scheduled.

A portion of the ceiling in the extremely long reception hall, also known as the map room because of the frescos of different areas of Italy.

A portion of the ceiling in the extremely long reception hall, also known as the map room because of the frescos of different areas of Italy.

Also planned by Jewish Roma, we had a semi-private tour with one other couple. I would say they were in their late 30s and the tour guide, perhaps in her late 40s. This tour would take us through the Vatican Museum, not air-conditioned, to the Sistine Chapel. The museum winds it ways through room after room of art works. Long halls, galleries, so much to see. So much walking!! And finally, we are all herded into the Sistine Chapel where everyone stands and looks up ward at the magnificent art drawn by Michaelangelo. At least it had some air conditioning.

It was in this room that I realized I am 60,and other people noticed. We had moved to the back of the chapel to look around there before going out. Our lovely tour guide Sylvia, suddenly turned to my husband and I and said, “There are some seats that just came available. Why don’t you go sit there!”

Okay, we can. We walked over and my husband and I sat down. I looked over at him. He looked really tired. I must look tired as well, I thought. Then I looked up. The three younger adults were looking down at us. And I had a epiphany moment, I knew what they were thinking. They were thinking that we were worn out. They were worried about us. Would these seniors make it through the tour? Are they ok? Wow! I now know what my parents thought when I sat them down somewhere to rest. And you what? I needed that rest. It felt wonderful!

After a few minutes, perhaps ten, we said we were ready to go on. Really, we reassured the guide and the couple. And on we went. When the tour ended my husband and I went into St. Peter’s Basilica for a while. But after about 20 mintues, I was done. It was time to go back to the hotel. And I was not going to walk!!! Even though my husband assured me it was just about a mile. NO! I won.

We walked to the edge of St. Peter’s Square and got a cab.

Back to the hotel. It was about 5:30 pm. I took a quick shower and went to take a nap. My husband said he tried to wake me at 7 pm, for dinner. I did not move. I also did not move at 7:15 when he tried again. Finally at 7:30 pm, I did wake up and we went out for dinner.

We went just a block from the hotel to a lovely restaurant; then on to a gelato shop for dessert.

It was a wonderful day. We walked another six miles. We saw so much and learned so much about Rome. But we also learned that we are 60 years old!

Always Searching For a Touch of Jewish History

7 Jul

Whenever I travel, I try to incorporate a touch of Jewish history into all my trips. It started when I had little children, and an older friend recommended that I include something of our heritage whenever we traveled. It seemed like a good idea, so I started this tradition.

Our first attempt to fulfill this commitment was seeing a production of a new opera about the Golem in the Aspen Opera House. It was a wild opera. Many people walked out. But my children LOVED it. A great success.

Great Synagogue in Buenos Aires.

Great Synagogue in Buenos Aires.

Since then we have visited Jewish sites throughout the world: Jewish museums thorugh out the United States,as well as the Jewish Museum in Vienna and my husband visited the Jewish Museum in Athens. We have seen the synagogue on St. Thomas, the Great Synagogue in Buenes Aires, the holocaust memorial and several synagogues in Montivideo, Uraguay. We have visited Jewish sites in Canada.

Holocaust memorial in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Holocaust memorial in Montevideo, Uruguay.

So my trip to Europe this summer was no different. We had to incorporate a bit of Judaism into our trip, especially with all the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. I needed to do this!

While in Rome, we used the tour company, Jewish Roma, to book tours of the Jewish Quarter and the Vatican (to get a slightly Jewish slant on this very Catholic compound. ) The tour of the Jewish Quarter, or what used to b the Ghetto, was wonderful. Walking down the streets and seeing where so many Jews had been forced to live during the Middle Ages, in fact up until the 19th century, touched me.

I loved seeing the Great Synagogue and the museum with all its religious objects. I listened to the tales of the Shoah and the life of Jews in Rome for centuries. I was shocked to see the plaque on a church that once stood just outside the gate of the ghetto that was written in Hebrew but encouraged Jews to convert. I had heard of this practice, but to actually see it, was painful. I am glad they kept it there.

The Great Synagogue in Rome, Italy

The Great Synagogue in Rome, Italy

The small community of 12,500 Jewish people in Rome support synagogues, a day school and a hospital. They are well aware of their standing in the community.  Near the synagogue is a square where over 1,000 Jews were rounded up by the Nazi’s.  This October date is memorialized.  Of the 1,000 taken, only 18 returned.

I learned that in Rome the Jews are neither Sephardic nor Ashkenazi in their religious practice. Their service comes from a time before the divide. It is a Roman service. How interesting!?  We also ate fried artichokes, a Jewish Roman delicacy.  I enjoyed walking through the Jewish Quarter, seeing the Jewish Day School, eating lunch in a kosher bristol.

Our tour guide, Sara, told us how her family was actually from Sicily but was forced to move to Rome centuries ago. So I was excited when we were in Sicily to have to tour guide point out the original synagogue, now a church of course, and the road where the Jews once lived. There is a plaque on the wall of the street indicating that it was once the home to the Jewish population of Sicily.

What was once the synagogue in Sicily, now a church.

What was once the synagogue in Sicily, now a church.

Although there were small Jewish communities in some of the other places we visited, like Corsica, it was not until Barcelona that we had our next Jewish encounter. Near the harbor is a hill that is still called Montjuic, Mountain of the Jews. It was where the Jewish cemetery once was located. But as our tour guide told us, when the Jews were expelled the cemetery was destroyed. In fact the Jews of Barcelona were cast out in the 1390s, a hundred years before they were expelled from the rest of Spain. Now this is part of the site of the Barcelona Olympics from the 1990s. So although there are no Jews there anymore, the name remains.

We walked in the Gothic area of the city where the Jewish population once lived and where the old synagogue still remains, although we did not see it.

Our other touch of Judaism was going to a Flamenco performance. I had read that many people believe the Flamenco dance was an outgrowth of the closeness of the Roma community with the Sephardic Jewish community. Our tour guide, Bettina, commented on this connection as well. She told us about how the Jews were expelled and forced to leave.  When our tour was over, I commented privately to her about my family’s distant roots in Spain.  And how our family, then known as Faya was forced to leave.  I guess, that   even though the Jews left Spain so many centuries ago, little pieces remain behind. And that brings me some peace.

I do wish I had booked a private Jewish tour of Barcelona before we went instead of relying on public tours and asking my questions. But I am glad that I have continued in my search to find a bit of Jewish heritage with every trip I take.