April 10, 2024
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April 10, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

How many menorahs can you count behind Gabi Franklin and me? (Credit: David Roher)

Six Days Until Ironman UK

I couldn’t sleep. So, I went running through Rome and I got lost. Using my cell phone to navigate the dark streets of Jewish Ghetto of Rome, with their narrow alleyways and cobblestone roads. I made it back to the Airbnb with less than 5% cell phone battery life.

The next morning, I got up early and went to the Great Synagogue of Rome. I have been fascinated with the Temple in Jerusalem since I was 13 when I learned the Gemara of Pesachim in Camp Moshava.

Everything from the logistics of moving hundreds of animals through the Temple courtyard to the noise of the thousands of worshipers to the idea of a Sadducee High Priest pouring water on the floor, instead of the altar, and being pelted by the esrogim of the Kohanim.

(How many Kohanim?)

Nine hundred!

(That’s a sea of flying fruit …. all headed for one man.)

That’s my point. The sheer scale of the building and the people involved were massive. So, when I heard the Great Synagogue of Rome was established within 200 years of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, I had to go and experience the closest thing to the melodies of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

When I arrived, I presented my passport to the guard behind the glass and then I answered his questions. He asked me everything except if I had packed my tefillin myself. I climbed up the narrow stone stairway to the main sanctuary. It was a magnificent room that echoed every sound.

Stevie Roher wants the menorah returned to the Jewish people. (Credit: David Roher)

I slid into a wooden pew and began unwrapping my tallis when a teenager asked me,

“Has anyone ever told you that you look like…”

(Here it comes: Tony Stark? Robert Downey?)

“The guy who writes for The Jewish Link about triathlons?”

(What???)

“Yes, I am that guy.” I extend my hand,

“David Roher. What is your name?”

“Gabi Franklin.”

(I didn’t see that question coming.)

It’s been happening more and more, especially with teens.

It has happened at a few bar mitzvahs and weddings, but this was the first time it happened in another country. I am grateful that there are people who enjoy my writing.

(Like the person who is reading this right now!)

The morning prayer service in the Great Synagogue was near impossible to follow.

(So, grab a siddur.)

I did; it was in Hebrew and Italian!

I recorded sections of the service because they were so beautiful to listen to. I became so enthralled, I forgot to pray. Their davening had more call and response between the chazan and the worshipers than I was accustomed to. The melodies were almost Medieval and the voice of the chazan echoed off the ceiling, creating more depth and range than nature had intended. His voice felt bigger than the man who was chanting it. It was a powerful experience to say the least.

I had also come to Rome in hopes of finding any references to the menorah that was carved into the Arch of Titus. I even read a book on the subject called, “The Menorah, From the Bible to Modern Israel” by Professor Steven Fine.

The author made it clear that the menorah of the Second Temple was not in the Vatican. Even the Israeli Minister of Antiquity asked the Vatican about the menorah and was told that it wasn’t in Rome. But there were many “menorahs” in Rome. As I looked up at the vaulted ceiling, I saw that the Great Synagogue was adorned with menorahs. They were everywhere. No matter, I had an appointment at the Vatican later that day.

(You had a what?)

An appointment at the Vatican. More on that later…

After a café breakfast we headed off to see Rome.

I made a mistake. I booked a tour of the Colosseum.

The tour guide was friendly, but I knew more than she about the history of this Roman antiquity.

(OK, impress me.)

Vespasian used the gold taken from the conquest of Jerusalem to pay for the construction of the Colosseum. Back to my story. In the 90 F, midday heat we separated from the tour and walked over to the Arch of Titus, which is just down the road from the Colosseum.

It was surreal to be looking at the carving of the menorah of the Second Temple in person after years of studying the image in books. The carving wasn’t bigger or smaller than I imagined. It was exactly what I imagined it would look like. I looked at my children to see if they were also having an emotional connection to our history.

My 11-year-old “Chabadnik” had a, “That’s ours, give it back” reaction.

It took almost as long to get the picture of the Colosseum just “right” as it did to build the Colosseum. (Credit: David Roher)

We made a special trip to see this part of our history and my son Stevie connected with it in a way I could not have imagined. I just smiled.

Then we moved on up the road. By the time we reached the Colosseum the 90 F heat had worn out my family. We were buying bottles of water and drinking them faster and faster. I’m comfortable racing in 90 F heat. Boy, it was oppressive to stand around in it.

We stood in the shade where we could. As uncomfortable as I was, I was more determined to get my Colosseum photo. As a social studies teacher, I was starstruck. I had spent years teaching about this ancient site … and now I was here, in Rome, in front of the Roman Colosseum!

“No one move ‘til dad is happy,” My 17-year-old exclaimed. Each of us knew that we were not leaving Rome without a picture of the family in front of the Colosseum and I wanted the picture to be just right.

(Are you that difficult?)

It took three separate poses to get the picture just right, so yeah, I am.


David Roher is a USAT certified triathlon and marathon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and veteran special education teacher. He is on Instagram @David Roher140.6. He can be reached at [email protected].

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