Hundreds of Rome’s Jewish residents, led by the community’s rabbis, recently wrote letters in the Chabad movement’s Sefer Torah for Jewish Unity which is being written at the initiative of Israel’s national airline, El Al.
The local community hosted El Al’s CEO, Eliezer Shkedi, and the company’s rabbi, Rav Yochanan Hayut, for Shabbat on January 28. The two attended Shabbat services at one of Rome’s largest synagogues, where Rabbi Hayut gave a D’var Torah [short Torah lecture] and Shkedi was given the honor of reciting the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel.
That evening, a special dinner for Chabad’s institutions in Rome was held. Speaking to participants at the dinner, Shkedi said that El Al has much in common with the Chabad movement. El Al, he explained, is affiliated with the Jewish State, connecting Jews from all walks of life and supporters of Israel with the State of Israel. He added that similarly, the Chabad movement is the bridge which connects many communities in the Jewish world.
Commenting on the initiative of writing a Torah scroll, Shkedi said that the Scroll for Jewish Unity was written by Jewish leaders from around the world, spiritual leaders, political leaders, Jewish Nobel Prize winners and Jewish intellectuals. The Sefer Torah, which will accompany El Al’s flights of national significance, expresses the connection between all the parts of the Jewish nation, Shekdi said. He added, “There is nothing like the People of Israel’s Torah to connect all of us to our roots.”
On the Friday before the event, Rabbi Yochanan Hayut wrote letters in the Torah Scroll, doing so near the Arch of Titus, which was constructed in the year 82 CE by the Roman Emperor Domitian, shortly after the death of his older brother Titus. The Arch, situated across from the ruins of the ancient Coliseum, was built to commemorate Titus’ victories, including the Siege of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE, which brought about the destruction of the Second Temple. On the arch are reliefs of Jewish captives carrying the Menorah taken from the Temple.
“Nothing is more symbolic of Israel’s eternity than writing a letter in a Torah Scroll near the Arch of Titus, the symbol of the victory of the Roman Empire over the Jewish people,” Rabbi Hayut said. “The Roman Empire no longer exists, but Israel lives and exists only through its adherence to the truth of the Torah.”
Rome symbolizes, in Talmudic and later Judaic literature, the pagan and Christian cultural and physical enemies of the Jewish people. The Talmud states that if Rome (Caesarea) ascends, Jerusalem declines, and if Jerusalem ascends, Rome declines. The Coliseum is in ruins, but the Jewish people and their Torah live on, despite the reliefs so triumphantly etched on the victory arch.