BEAUTY, AND FEAR, IN ROME

Noga Gur-Arieh

When the lights in the theater turned on after a screening of Woody Allen’s “To Rome with Love” ended, I began to visualize wandering the streets of Rome with my boyfriend, the two of us breathing romance. As if I was struck by magic, I couldn’t get Rome out  of my head, and about a month later, we were on a plane to one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

The beauty of Rome is not only in its romantic atmosphere or magnificent buildings. There’s much, much more: Rome holds a combination of old and new, ancient and modern, which makes it almost unbelievable, even when standing in the middle of it all.

My Rome experience stimulated all five senses. In just six days, I got to see, touch, taste, hear and smell like never before. I stood close to buildings that changed the face of architecture and creations that changed the world of art.

Rome was not only a millenarian empire; it was an artistic empire, an architectural empire and a religious empire as well. Its impact on the world we know is indescribable.

When walking the streets of Rome, you never know what the next piazza, fountain or ancient Roman column will reveal to you. The combination of architecture, history, art, food and love helped me to forget the heat of August and made this vacation simply the best.

But before I ever got there…

When Traveling is No Cakewalk

For Israelis, vacations abroad come with special considerations. The first rule is very simple, though not always easy to adhere to: Don’t pack anything that has Hebrew letters on it.

It seems a bit strange at first, but we all know that wearing clothing or an accessory with Hebrew letters will simply draw more attention to our Israeli identity, which is something we wish to hide abroad. The same goes for any other adornments that would associate us with Israel, such as jewelry with Star of David or a yarmulke.

I must admit that when I write it down right now, it looks weird, almost unnatural. I mean, why would anyone want to hide his or her identity?

Put simply, it is just a natural part of our packing process. That I have only now realized how strange it sounds, after G-d knows how many flights, is proof to that.

Perhaps those of you who’ve ever been abroad went through the same process, and perhaps you haven’t. I am still not sure if it’s a Jewish thing or just an Israeli thing. Nor am I sure if it’s the fear of bombing, or just of anti-Semitism, that I get every time I land in Europe.

For some reason I didn’t feel this unidentifiable fear as much when I was in the States. It could be because the U.S. is generally a safer place, but now I think that maybe I felt more secure because I was usually amongst a Jewish community during my time there.

Whatever this fear is, it’s rational to have and most certainly didn’t pop out of nowhere. As you all know, there have been many incidents in which either Jews or Israelis were targeted, the latest occurring in Burgas almost a month ago.

And that’s only one example of the realization of this fear.

Seeing Both Sides

But, in spite of that fear, we didn’t walk with our heads down while on our recent vacation. We didn’t hide in the shadows of the European streets or think about that fear every minute of every day. Instead, we enjoyed ourselves.

For most of my vacation days in Rome, I had a blast, thinking of my Judaism only when avoiding the many ham dishes on every menu. I almost didn’t think of what could happen.

That is, until I came across a swastika painted on a wall in one of the side streets. That brought everything back to my attention, and from that point on, I was grateful for being able to enjoy my vacation as much as I did and land back in Israel safe and sound.

More than any article, that swastika reminded me that, outside of my home in Israel, I am never completely safe from hate. And here, I don’t refer to just any type of hate; after all, wherever we are, hate exists.

I am talking about the scariest type of hate. The one that nearly destroyed us as Jews, and the one that is threatening us as Israelis today.

Our trip reminded me that it is important to appreciate what you have and who you are; that after 2,000 years of depression and disasters, we have managed to stay united under the warm hug of Judaism; and that there’s nothing we cannot survive.

At the same time, this trip also brought to my mind something a little girl in red shoes once said: “There’s no place like home.”

Editor’s note: Noga Gur-Arieh visited the U.S. to work at Camp Coleman after finishing her military service in the IDF. She is now back in Israel, working as a journalist.

By Noga Gur-Arieh
AJT Contributor