As I stand in the pews of the Great Synagogue of Rome, surrounded by Ramah colleagues and friends, I feel humbled and inspired by the significance of this building. The Great Synagogue of Rome stands in a neighborhood where Roman Jews have lived in both peace and under oppressive rule for hundreds of years. Throughout this time, the Great Synagogue has continued to be a haven for Jewish practice and tradition that continues to this day. Listening to the prayerful melodies, which are both foreign and familiar, reminds me of just how much Judaism and Ramah have been key pillars in my life.
In February I had the chance to travel to Israel and Italy with Kerem, the Ramah young professional’s cohort. The purpose of our trip was threefold. First, we were brought together to network, get to know one another, talk about our camps, discuss professional and personal challenges, and strengthen the bonds between the various Ramah camps. Second, we went to Jerusalem with our respective Directors to interview Israeli staff members who want to come to Ramah camps to be counselors, specialists, and educators this upcoming summer. Third, we went to Italy to learn about the modern and ancient Jewish connections to Rome.
One specific moment that I continue to think about is the beauty and size of the Great Synagogue of Rome. This synagogue stands proudly in the Jewish Ghetto topped with a square dome that reminds me of large churches throughout the world. Inside the main sanctuary the ceilings and walls are adorned with beautiful colors and decorations such as menorahs, biblical verses, and intricate stone carvings. The idea of this grand synagogue standing within the Jewish Ghetto, where Roman Jews were forcibly contained makes me appreciate the hard work and attention to detail that has been put into the creation and maintenance of such a substantial structure. I am amazed at the beauty of this space and the holiness that I feel here.
Since returning to the United States I have thought deeply about the lessons learned and meanings derived from my experiences in Israel and Italy. I have come to two conclusions. The first is that Judaism is a multifaceted religion. There are an ever-growing number of communities and customs which, I believe, enhance the uniqueness and beauty of Judaism. While there are many similarities that connect the global Jewish community, there are also a large number of differences. These differences each tell a story about a certain Jewish community or Jewish event that influenced said community. The second conclusion I have come to is that interacting with and learning from Jews around the world makes the Jewish world more connected, more powerful, and more special. The connections that I have gained from the Kerem trip leave me with a greater understanding of Jewish history, diaspora, and new traditions. I leave this trip with greater knowledge of our people and the hard work that it takes to maintain a sense of peoplehood while the people involved live throughout the world.