During our visit to Rome’s Great Synagogue, I happened upon a scene familiar and poignant to Jewish parents the world over. In the small Sephardic synagogue below the Great Synagogue’s sanctuary, a young boy was practicing for his Bar Mitzvah ceremony. His voice was high and sweet. The rabbi chanted in tandem, rhythmically tapping the boy’s shoulder as he practiced.

Most of Italy’s 35,000 Jews live in Rome where there has been a Jewish presence since the second century B.C.E. Does it go without saying that Roman Jews, like Jews everywhere, lived through one persecution and degradation or another throughout the centuries? As recently as 1982, five Palestinan terrorists opened fire upon the synagogue killing two-year-old Stefano Gaj Taché  and injuring 37 others who were departing the synagouge after Sabbath worship. There is a plaque outside the synagogue commemorating the attack.

Perhaps that’s why I was so moved watching the rabbi and his student. For millennia the Torah’s words, laws, narratives and mysteries have challenged and connected Jews across time and space. The boy I watched that afternoon in Rome would soon take his place in the indomitable arc of Jewish life and history. I bid him a silent Mazal Tov!

                                                                                         The sanctuary of Rome’s Great Synagogue.

Photo credits: Bar mitzvah student and teacher courtesy of Debra Darvick.
Interior of Rome’s Great Synagogue courtesy of Martin Darvick.