Millions of visitors flock to Florence each year to view the works of the masters at The Accademia Gallery and the Uffizi Gallery. I anticipated that this part of the tour would be the most memorable for me. Many of the pieces of art were commissioned by the church or the government to educate and influence the people of that time. To view first hand Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Michaelangelo’s David statue fulfilled dreams I have had since I was a child. I have looked hundreds of times at photos of these two works, studying the faces, the backgrounds and the feelings of the artwork over my lifetime, yet it was something completely unexpected in the area that stirred my soul.
Throughout this trip we have toured multiple beautiful impressive synagogues and heard about the importance of each one. Today, however, the tour was different. It was not the Great Green-Domed Synagogue of Florence or either of the two beautiful synagogues of Venice, but an unimposing, yet still beautiful, synagogue in Siena, which was much smaller and simple in
comparison to the others we have visited where the elements we have been learning about came to have meaning for me.
I had the incredible opportunity to tour this particular synagogue in the company of a precious fellow traveler who is Jewish. To have a personal conversation in which she explained the sacredness of the Torah scrolls and her personal feelings on the “ladies section” of this synagogue, took a place of religious items and transformed it into a living community where people learn together, rejoice together, grieve together and live life together. This woman created a space, while we walked away from the synagogue, where I felt free to ask questions I had wondered about for years. That conversation helped me to understand, and correct, many misconceptions I had previously held about the Jewish faith. At the same synagogue, one of our wonderful guides lit up as he described having the honor of holding his grandsons during their bris ceremonies and the connection and bond his involvement in this act created with them was evident by the emotion on his face. On the walk from this synagogue to lunch I had the chance to have more of my questions answered by a scholar in Jewish history. It was an honor to have the opportunity to learn first-hand from such resources. This information has given me a clearer perspective of Jewish life that will certainly be conveyed to my students as I head back to the classroom in August.
As we now move on from Florence and Siena, it will not be a marble statue or a beautiful painting I will remember about this place, but the open conversations and willing hearts of the people who have shared of themselves in order to give me a better understanding of the Jewish world. I will be forever grateful for these experiences and conversations.