A Jewess in Rome🇮🇹
Notable foot traffic, diving pigeons, workers lunching, divas brunching; Roma bears a semblance to New York. However, this city is spared the monotony, the graceless coffee breaks, the inexcusable lack of fine dress. NYC is home to wondrous magic, but Rome has evolved; it has learned to laugh at itself while still shouldering a healthy amount of pride.
By the time my cabbie drops me off at my hostel, The Downtown Alessandro, I’ve already fallen madly in love with this city. The air is thick with aromatic confections, the streets are dripping in history and ruin. To some degree, it borders on arcane, as though stepping into a pop-up book would seem more believable.
After I check in, my explorative instincts go into overdrive. I grab my half-charged camera and immediately set out to see where they take me. My first point of interest is The Jewish Ghetto, since it’s been on my bucket list for quite some time. I map out a route and begin the 40-minute walk. Minimally phased by the fact that I’ve come during rainy season, I enthrall in every ounce of splendor along the way.
The Jewish Ghetto
The Jewish Ghetto makes up one of two general kosher areas here in Rome; the second one being Piazza Bologna. The Jewish communities here are mostly made up of Libyan Sephardim. They have an innate passion that’s only proven to be infectious, leaving you feeling loved, (and well fed).
Mostly reserved for eateries, this area is home to some fine quality restaurants, from Bella Carne to Ba’Ghetto. It’s comprised of very few streets, all well guarded by Italy’s finest. A staple in Italian cuisine is their famed fried artichokes. This culturally significant antipasta (or appetizer) is made two ways: the Roman way and the Jewish way. I personally prefer the Jewish way because it’s more intimidating; essentially a fried blossom is placed before you and you haven’t a clue on how to begin devouring this delicacy. (With your hands, that’s how!) And don’t forget to head on over to the gelataria for some whipped-to-perfection gelato as you later walk off your shamelessly indulgent meal.
Another highlight is the Great Synagogue of Rome, or Tempio Maggiore di Roma, which is certainly worthy of its name. This is the grandest shul I’ve ever had the privilege of exploring. Downstairs, you will find an impressive museum, (whose proceeds fund the synagogue). On the day I happened to visit, there was a Holocaust memorial service taking place. All with a television crew and military escort.
Our shul guide enlightened us on the history of the Libyans Jews who sought asylum after Spain’s expulsion. They set down roots here making this the oldest Jewish community outside of Israel!
We also learned of the terrorist attack in 1982 and the necessity for armed guards in such vicinities.
Though more residential, this neighborhood still offers some great restaurants, like Ba’Ghetto, (great borekas!), Fonzie, (awesome burgers!), and Flour Bakery (delicious everything!). This is also the only area you can find kosher grocery stores. Granted, they are small and humble, but both within walking distance of one another, as are the neighboring two shuls and the Chabad house.
Storytime: I needed to cancel my AirBNB after realizing it was nowhere near my scheduled Shabbat meal at Chabad. I had less than 48 hours to find accommodations. Within minutes of expressing my concern on Facebook, I had multiple people searching for a place for me to stay. Then, the wonderful Giada, of The Home in Rome B&B, reached out to me and had me stay in La Casa di Eva, her father’s B&B for Thursday night and her own for Shabbat. Both Bed & Breakfasts are 100% kosher. Her dad gave me a detailed description of the neighborhood, showered me with brachot (blessings), and was extraordinarily helpful in every way.
I should mention that I did come across their places online before booking my trip, but the computerized system wouldn’t allow me to book a room for just one. (#SoloTravelerProblems am I right?) This is why I urge you to always reach out directly to the listed contact before taking assumptions.
After solo travelling for a while, I’ve learned to never be too strenuous on myself, especially with a tight-knit itinerary. I give myself plenty of strolling time and days for spontaneity. As you can see, I toured the main attractions like the Trevi Fountain, Piazza di Spagna, Piazza Navona, The Colosseum, etc., but I didn’t spend excessive amounts of time there. I discovered how minimal of a difference it makes to me to check off famed hotspots, when I know my happiest self enjoys discovering the less conventional.
I only went into museums if they struck my fancy, or if–in some cases–I needed to get out of the rain. Like I did with the Museo di Roma, which deserves its very own post.
It’s all about finding your rhythm as you traipse this glorious globe.