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May 30, 1986 - Image 28

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-05-30

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

28 Friday, May 30, 1986

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

NEWS

Violence Still Stalks
Jews In Springtime Italy

BY ZE'EV CHAFETS
Special to The Jewish News

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On the official tourist map of
Florence, the synagogue is site
number 39. It's not the most in-
teresting attraction in this
treasure chest of Western art,
but, for an Israeli visitor, it's
worth an April sabbath morning
visit. Three days of marble
pagan dieties, medieval madon-
nas and portraits of Church
fathers have awakened a hunger
to be among Jews, if only for an
hour.
In the springtime, Florence is
a truly sweet city. Its narrow
streets are packed with fresh-
faced Italian teenagers who
gape and giggle at the naked
statues under the stern eyes of
rovincial schoolmarms. The
April visit to Florence is a tradi-
tion, part of the way Italy
educates its children. You see
them at the Ufizzi Gallery trans-
fixed, in spite of themselves, by
the Di Vincis and Botticellis.
This is their heritage, and
Florence is its repository.
Site number 39 is not on the
children's itinerary, and the
streets nearby are quiet, placid
under the pale April sun. Here
and there you catch the aroma
of late morning cooking or hear
a snatch of opera from a second
story window. "La dolce vita,"
thinks the Israeli visitor,
already planning an afternoon
stroll on the banks of the Arno
River.
A picture of the synagogue in
the guidebook shows a graceful
Moorish sanctuary behind an or-
nate wrought iron fence. But on
this sabbath morning there is
another, more ominous land-
mark. In front of the iron gate
stands a blue riot van; inside,
clearly visible, are six Italian
policemen armed with auto-
matic weapons. They stare hard
at the passerby, and the dark,
bearded Israeli gets a long
second look. Kadaffi is on the
rampage, and the synagogue is
a target. Its gate is locked, its
courtyard deserted. Only the
hawkfaced Florence cops are
there to tell the Israeli visitor
how it is for the Jews in this
jewelbox of a city in April, 1986.
Florence prepares you for
'Rome. How to find the Jewish
quarter? Walk along the Tiber
until you see the men in their
blue uniforms and flak jackets,
automatic weapons slung over
their shoulders.
Here, too, the gates of the
synagogue are locked. Only the
day before, the Pope made his
historic visit to the building. He
spoke of Christian Europe's
debt to the Jews, nicely called
them "our older brothers." The
Pontiff said nothing about
Israel. which the Vatican
refuses to recognize, and his
hosts were too polite to raise the
subject. After all, it took the
Church two thousand years to
forgive them for killing Christ.
Perhaps, someday, it will accept
the Jews' right to a state of their
own. Rome, to coin a phrase,
wasn't built in a day.

In the narrow streets behind
the synagogue, the Jews are
preparing for Passover. The
shops are crowded with women
buying Aviv Matzot, Carmel
wine, Elite chocolate and chew-
ing gum from the Holy Land.
Later that week they will end
their seders with the ritual
"Next year in Jerusalem," while
their little brothers, the Italian
police, guard their tense celebra-
tion of freedom.
In an alley, children are kick-
ing a soccer ball and shouting in
Italian, apparently unaware of
the cops who watch their play-
ground. Nearby are the massive
wood door and grey wall of the
synagogue, decorated with
white, grapefruit-sized circles.
Closer inspection reveals that
the circles are drawn around
bullet holes. Four years ago,
Arab terrorists sprayed the
building with machine-gun fire.
The Israeli visitor can barely
recall the incident; Arab attacks

Children are kicking
a soccer ball,
apparently unaware
of the cops who
watch their
playground.

on synagogues in Europe all
seem to run together after a
while. "Was anyone hurt?" he
asks a middle-aged woman with
a shopping bag. "Si, a boy, a
bambino was killed," she replies
and walks on, past the wall with
its fourty-four deadly pock
marks.
Kitty corner a wreath hangs
on dull grey wall. Beneath it is
a plaque, a memorial to the Jews
of Rome who were killed in
World War II. In the festive
Roman springtime, it is easy to
forget which side Italy was on in
those days.
Outside the ghetto, in a small
wineshop, the Israeli visitor
scans the International Herald
Tribune over a Campari and
soda. "Austrian Jews Fear Anti-
Semitic Backlash" reads the
headline of a story on the
Presidential election in nextdoor
Austria. Kurt Waldheim's sup-
porters are mumbling darkly
about "Jewish circles" who have
the audacity to denounce
Waldheim's Nazi past. In
Salonika, in the old days,
Waldheim and his friends knew
how to deal with Jewish circles.
Now, for the first time, they are
reduced to veiled threats.
Above the door of the Rome
synagogue is a Hebrew inscrip-
tion: "Ma norah ha'makom
ha'zeh." It means, "How
awesome is this place"; but in
modern Hebrew it can also be
translated as, "how awful." For

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