The day was one of spring with the air clear and fresh under the warm sun when my wife and I toured ‘Beit Hatefutsoh’ The Diaspora House (Nahum Goldman Museum of Jewish Diaspora) located on the Tel Aviv University campus in Ramat Aviv, Israel. Our tour was to visit the display of artifacts and photos and to interest ourselves in archives to a monument to the Jewish Diaspora, past and present. It was a must for us to learn the unique story of the continuity of the Jewish People from the earliest beginnings to the time of the Diaspora by the edicts of Roman victors during the Jewish–Roman war (66-70 BCE) and the Bar Kochba Rebellion (132-135 BCE) to the present era. http://bh.org.il/index.html
The Douglas E. Goldman Jewish Genealogy Center Beth Hatefutsoth, The Nahum Goldman Museum of the Jewish Diaspora Tel Aviv, Israel 61392 – Tel. 972-3-640-5500/93 fax 972-3-640-5727 email@example.com www.bh.org.il/genealogy
(A computerized database is available for the listing of Jewish family trees from around the world that currently lists almost 2 million names. Concerned families or individuals can search for the required information and can register their family trees.)
There at the Data Base of the museum we were drawn to a letter written by a former citizen of Florence, Italy that told of the fate of the Jews and their unique synagogue in the years during the period of the holocaust. The written words were similar to the many who suffered during that period. It told of a period before barbarism set into Europe of the holiday celebrations in the synagogue by the Jewish community of Florence. The rise of fascism in Italy during that terrible era forced many members of his family to the only place of refuge – Israel (then Palestine), the land of their forefathers.
Sixty-two years on February 2001 later in his elder years he returned to city of his birth and he joined with the small Jewish community of Florence of the rebuilt Great Synagogue and joined with choir in singing Psalm 122, “I rejoiced at those who said to me: we shall go to the House of the Lord…” The moving event attended by the small Jewish community together with those from the Jewish State of Israel and of the Diaspora, both adults and youth, who had come to the House of the Lord in this city. They had come to perpetuate the ancient prayers and beautiful melodies that have echoed here within these walls through the centuries.
The man wrote when he turned to look at the decorated doors to Holy Ark he saw the marks of German bayonets. Tears were in eyes as he thought of the members of the community that were deported to concentration camps during World War II, never to return. The German troops then turned the synagogue into a stable and a warehouse for their weapons of war. When the German soldiers were forced to retreat from the advancing Allied forces they tried to blow up the synagogue but Italian partisans manage to defuse the mines.
Through the museum’s archive available to us we learned of the history of the synagogue – “ In 1872 David Levi, a member of the local Jewish community through his legacy in a long fund-raising campaign was able to raise enough money to build a synagogue “worthy of Florence”. The construction was assigned to architects Treves, Falcini and Micheli and lasted eight years, between 1874 and 1882. Because the Florentine Jews were Sephardic, the design of their synagogue recalls the Muslim art of Moorish Spain. It was dedicated October 24, 1882. All the internal walls were decorated between 1882 and 1890 by a local painter: Giovanni Panti, who made use of gold-plating to highlight the Moorish designs.” ‘http://www.jewishitaly.org’
When the elder left the synagogue through the courtyard he looked at the monument commemorating the Holocaust on its outer wall, he felt a sorrow through his words that he could hardly define. Perhaps it was his sense of longing for what can no longer return. Then he ended the missive, “The world has changed, times have changed and we too are no longer the same.”
1) Adjacent to the synagogue is the Florence Jewish Museum inaugurated in the year 2007 provides a history of the Jewish community in Florence from 1437 to the present through documents, photos and artifacts both religious and secular..
The former Jewish ghetto of Florence is no longer in existence, but a stroll through the area, one can find inscriptions that denoted Jewish presence on entrances of buildings. i.e. Over the entrance door to a former Jewish (haman) bathhouse reads, “The Jews were separated from the Union with Christians but were not turned out.” http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/Florence.html
2) A tour of the synagogue is permitted but there are certain prohibitions – touring not permitted during religious services – bags, cameras, video recorders, etc. are not allowed inside – ladies sit in the reserved area on the right side or in the women’s gallery upstairs.