I recently returned from a restorative, fascinating, and scenic trip to Northern Italy. I consider myself extremely lucky to have opportunities to travel abroad, and this summer I am even more grateful that we made it with no lost luggage and only one missed connection. Everywhere I go, I learn so much–about the culture, the food, the people, the politics, and whenever possible, Jewish life wherever it can be found.
And so it was that my husband and I found ourselves at Shabbat services in a 200 year-old synagogue in Verona, right in the middle of the area that had served as the ghetto there for centuries, a few minutes walk from Juliet’s fabled (and fictional) balcony. There is only one synagogue in Verona and it rarely has a minyan for Shabbat services. It was a beautiful and peaceful building, and even though we were thousands of miles from home and do not speak Italian, I was able to communicate with members in Hebrew. As soon as the service leaders began to daven, we were transported. And we were home. The words, the tunes, the standing and sitting, the call and response, the tallitot and kipot, all reinforced our feelings of connection and of peoplehood.
The highs of that Shabbat worship were tempered by the very visceral reminders of what centuries of antisemitic policies and practices, culminating in the Shoah, did to the Jews of Western Europe. Plaques mark the ground in front of buildings from which Jews were deported and sent to the camps. The buildings of the ghetto are obviously taller, and the apartments so much smaller, than anywhere else in Verona. Lines are built into the pavement marking the borders of where Jews could and could not live and work. And the results are clear; no more than 150 Jews still live in or around the city of Verona.
To come home to our thriving San Diego Jewish community, with more Jews in this county than in many countries around the world, with dozens of synagogues from which to choose, day schools, agencies, camps, preschools and more, is a precious gift. Experiences in Jewish communities abroad reinforce how precious it really is. It is why it is so important for us to do what we can to strengthen and support Jewish life around the world, in Ukraine and the former Soviet Union, in Ethiopia, in South America, anywhere Jews can be found. It is why our partnerships with the JDC and the Jewish Agency for Israel matter. And it is why traveling together is so important. It connects us, it helps us to appreciate what we have, and it opens our eyes to what it takes to sustain Jewish life in places where doing so is so much more challenging.
May your travels this summer and always be restorative and eye-opening in all the best ways.