The biggest domestic story that occurred during my vacation was Trump having a meeting with anti-Semites Kayne West and Nick Fuentes at Mar-a-Lago. Trump is amoral, so the meeting did not come as a shock. He will do what he believes is best for him politically. What is more upsetting is that Trump, who has shown an ability to read the mood of the Republican base, thought that meeting with two well-known anti-Semites would help his standing with the base. In other words, antisemitism has become mainstream in the Republican Party.
The muted response by most Republican officials and even Jewish Trumpians has indicated that he may be right. One only has to look at the Jewish papers to see the spineless nonresponse to this blatantly anti-Semitic conduct. The Queens Jewish Link published a statement from the Coalition for Jewish Values criticizing Trump. Rabbi Schonfeld, to his credit, objected to Trump’s meeting. Where are the rest of the Trumpian writers in the Queens Jewish Link? Where are the Trumpian regular letter-to-the-editor contributors? The only letter concerning Trump was from the person who may suffer from “Trump infallibility syndrome” who mentioned about Trump being honored by ZOA. The irony is that ZOA was one of the few right-wing Jewish organizations to criticize Trump. Compared to other Jewish papers, the Link stands out for addressing the issue. The other Jewish papers that I saw in my neighborhood either ignored the incident completely or put the story in a spot where it would get lost with the other comments made against the administration. If David Friedman, who was the United States Ambassador to Israel during the Trump presidency, can criticize the meeting, then why can’t these Jews also speak out? Trump was right: Most Jewish Trumpians will stand with him no matter what.
Now, on to my trip. I have mixed feelings about traveling to Europe due to a history of anti-Semitism. Rome is no exception, having been the capital city of the Roman Empire and the location of the Vatican (although technically Vatican City is a separate entity). I went with my daughter Shoshana. The city was packed with fellow tourists. In Rome, there is a historic structure on almost every block. Every year they keep finding new archaeological structures from the Roman Empire.
What’s amazing is how technologically-advanced Roman society was. For example, the Colosseum, which was built around the time of the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash in the year 70 CE, is the prototype for stadiums even today. I did go to the Arch of Titus, who was the Roman general who destroyed the holy Temple. In front of the arch, I took off my cap to make sure I showed my yarmulka. It was my way of saying to Titus that you and your Roman Empire are long gone, just a bunch of ruins, and we the Jewish people are still around. The arch is overshadowed by other ruins and arches in the area. Titus has become irrelevant, which may be the biggest dig to a person who wanted his name to be remembered forever.
In another area of Rome, archaeologists found ruins from the Roman “Temple of Peace” which claimed that it contained items from the Bais Hamikdash. The Temple of Peace was built to celebrate the victory over “the Jewish rebellion.”
We also went to Ostia Antica and Pompeii, two ancient cities. Pompeii is more well known since the entire place was wiped out by the lava and/or the toxic fumes from Mount Vesuvius which erupted in the year 79. Pompeii was a large, well-to-do community. Ostia Antica was an abandoned shipping town, a middle-class community. They are both worth the trip. To get the most out of the trip, it would be helpful to do some research about both places beforehand.
My daughter wanted to go to the Vatican Museums. I thought that we would be given access to the Jewish Museum. Unfortunately, it was closed. It was amazing how much material the museums had. Looking at the breadth of material, it would not surprise me if the Vatican has the items that were taken from the Second Temple, as rumored.
In Germany, there is an acknowledgement of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jewish community. In contrast, at the various Vatican Museums, there was no mention of the history of attacks made against the Jewish community, whether it was the inquisition, the expulsions, pogroms, or blood libels which were made per the request, or with the approval of, the Vatican. The State of Israel was not mentioned. They referred to the area as Syria-Palestine. A possible justification is that the area was known by that name at the time of the incident. However, this has been disproven, since Syria was not the name of the area. It was known as Assyria. This whitewash of history by the church shows that despite some of the consolatory rhetoric coming out from some in the church, not much has changed.
Being away for Shabbos is always a tricky proposition, especially now with all the technological advances. It is very hard to find a place that has a key entrance to the building and the room. We ended up being in Rome for two Shabbosos. I wanted to be in the Jewish Ghetto and daven in the majestic shul Temple Maggiore di Roma, built in 1904. They daven the Italian nusach. It is the most impressive synagogue I have ever been in. The women’s sections are at least two stories above the men’s section. The roof is at least three floors higher. I have never seen an Aron Kodesh so big. Unfortunately, I could not find a place to stay near the shul for the first Shabbos, so I ended up in another Jewish community. The shul was not as impressive, and Shabbos morning davening started much later. I was able to find a place for the second Shabbos in the Jewish Ghetto. The place had keys for the entrance and the room.
It took longer to get home than I would have liked. We ended up going through Germany. Although my parents are not survivors of the Holocaust, I felt uneasy when I saw signs in the airport mentioning about the availability of showers or when dealing with German police officers.
The Roman Empire was the strongest and most technologically advanced in the world at that time and had a political system that was imperfect based on our standards, but advanced based on the standards of its time. The Roman Empire did not fall in one day; it was a slow decay. Many of the causes of its demise are a warning for the United States. There was a disparity in wealth, and loss of confidence in the government, public institutions, and belief systems. The quality of leadership was poor. The Roman Empire changed from a Pagan country to a Christian country. It did not save the Empire, and some say led to its demise. However, it did make Christianity the most powerful religion in the world.
The bottom line is that if you enjoy historic sights, Rome is a good place to go.