July 26, 2013

Echoes From The Arch of Titus

I sat at the Kotel and mourned the destruction of Jerusalem on Tisha B'Av. Exactly one week later, I stood under the Arch of Titus in Rome. I had not planned this. I was on a whirlwind family trip. We had 48 hours to see the sites of a city that could take a lifetime to explore.

It was hot and humid, a typical July day in Rome.  The  cobbled streets burned underfoot and our sticky clothes stuck to our perspiring bodies. We were exhausted from standing in lines that snaked around ancient walls and running after guides while dodging a million other tourists who were also running after guides.

Our guide said goodbye, leaving us in the shade of a towering Mediterranean pine. He had just told us that the Roman army brought the pine seedlings from Lebanon and planted them along the roads of the Empire so the soldiers could march in shade. I imagined huge legions of fighters weighed down by glistening armor marching along roads in formation, leaving a trail of dust and fear with every footstep.

We walked a few steps and spied an arch. It sat alone, abandoned, at the far end of Palatine Hill, where a large road once stood. We walked up to it and searched the carvings. And there it was; engraved in the stone, we saw a group of soldiers carting off a large menorah. They held it high, victoriously.

 The soldiers in this carving had just returned from ransacking Jerusalem. It was 70 AD. They broke through the fortified walls , then torched the city, murdering every Jew they could find on their rampage. It was written that there was so much blood flowing, it could extinguish the flames. Yet Jerusalem burned and smoldered until it was a pile of rock and ashes. The Romans then chained 90,000 Jews and shipped them to Rome to sell as slaves.

I read about these tragic events just one week ago in the kinnos, the sad poems of Tisha B’Av. And when I stood under the arch seven days later, I had a deeper appreciation of the second part of this story. I rested where the Jewish slaves had worked. I had just toured the massive Coloseum and learned that it too was built by Jewish slaves and with money from the booty that was pillaged from Jerusalem, Jewish homes and the Second Temple.

The Arch of Titus was built by the Jewish slaves who had witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem and who had lost loved ones, all possessions, their freedom and their homeland. The soldiers proudly paraded the sacred vessels they had captured and forced the Jews to inscribe this on a victory arch for perpetuity.  And Rome rejoiced.

Today the Roman civilization is gone. Tall columns stand in parched fields that were once a busy metropolis. The Colosseum is crumbling, gaping, most if its materials carted off by the church to be recycled into grand basilicas.

Yet that arch stands untouched by the ravages of time, the menorah clearly visible to modern eyes. Why? I wondered.
We all sat in silence and could feel the 2,000-year-old pain, the sorrow, the loss. We cried. My daughter said she felt the same sadness here as she did in Auschwitz. It was a Shoa.
And then I realized why the arch still stands in perfect form. It is a reminder for us and for the world.

The fact is, we can trace this ancient, significant story from the ruins of Jerusalem to the streets of Rome. We just happen to have foggy, selective  memories. And because of this, history repeats itself. 

We picked ourselves up, dusted off the dirt and sand, then slowly and silently made our way back to the bustling streets of modern Rome, thinking ‘never again.’

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments are always welcome.