- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2000

Rome - Just before he closed up for the Jewish Sabbath, a haberdasher on the via dei Giubbonari paused in settling the bill for a sweater with a visiting American, whom he recognized as Jewish.
"How do you feel about a Jew running for vice president of the United States?" he asked. The American expressed feelings of pride mixed with a little nervousness. The shopkeeper nodded.
"It's fine if he's elected and there are no big mistakes, but as soon as the vice president stumbles, won't Americans blame all Jews?"
That is a question often raised in a visitor's conversations with European Jews. Given their uneasy history, they feel they have reason to be alarmed. Only this week thugs firebombed a synagogue in Dusseldorf.
Rome is the site of the first ghetto, literally. The Jewish relationship with Rome, which began over 2,000 years ago, the oldest in Western Europe, reads like the adventures of Candide in the best of all possible worlds.
They arrived as freemen and merchants and flourished under the protection of Julius Caesar and Augustus, but they were mercilessly mistreated by later pagan tyrants. After Constantine legalized Christianity, they were described as a "foul, bestial, filthy perverse sect."
In the Middle Ages Jews were forced to wear an ugly hat of identification which was round with a protruding horn. At carnival time many Jewish men were often publicly stripped, forced to walk on all fours, with riders mounting them as though they were horses. In 1555 they were ordered to live in a ghetto with eight gates that were locked at night. Even though Raphael and Michelangelo drew heavily on Jewish themes for their art at the Vatican, the phrase "perfidious Jews" remained in the Catholic Good Friday prayer until Pope John XXIII removed it.
Roman Jews gained equal rights in 1870 and prospered socially and commercially until the fascists under Mussolini in 1938 passed racial laws against them, withdrawing all civil rights. Five years later Italians stood by as the Nazis rounded up 2,091 Roman Jews, stuffed them into 18 sealed cattle cars and sent them off to the gas chambers of Birkenau and the ovens of Auschwitz. Only 16 of the 2,091 survived.
Today there are 16,000 Jews scattered through Rome. They are sensitive to public opinion when Jews gain distinction because their Jewish history alternates between prominence and prejudice. Thus the speculation over the future of Joe Lieberman. In fact, a visitor spending a week in Rome and Berlin finds Jews more curious and conflicted over the choice of Mr. Lieberman than many Jews in America.
In Berlin Jewish images are chic and trendy, especially among young gentile Berliners. They listen to Klezmer music in their neighborhood clubs, hang six-pointed stars on their walls, nibble bagels and commemorate the Holocaust at every opportunity. Although there are only 11,000 Jews in Berlin today, an adult education course offers 50 lectures on Jewish culture and religion attended by Jews and others alike. A popular museum show chronicles the lives of Jews who survived in Berlin from 1938-1945.
In one small park in a neighborhood where Jews once lived, a bronze sculpture is made up of a small table and two chairs. One of the chairs is knocked over and lies askew, suggesting that the Jews it memorializes left in a hurry, either fleeing for their lives, or ending with arrest by the Gestapo.
Berliners I met were eager to hear about Mr. Lieberman and his wife Hadassah, the daughter of survivors. They see them as yet another example of a triumph against Hitler's Holocaust. They flinch at anything remotely suggesting anti-Semitism.
So they listen with perplexity when they hear that Mr. Lieberman is willing to meet with Louis Farrakhan, the black leader in America who referred to Jews as "blood suckers," Judaism as a "gutter religion" and Adolf Hitler as a "great" man. Mr. Farrakhan only recently suggested that a Jewish vice president would owe a greater loyalty to Israel than to the United States. Nevertheless, the senator suggested that meeting Mr. Farrakhan would be "a time to sort of knit the country together more."
Oy, vay. (That's Yiddish, and it translates into English as "not on your life.")

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