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Jewish World Review Oct. 5, 2000/ 6 Tishrei, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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Looking at Lieberman from inside the 'ghetto' -- 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 sixteen 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 Joe 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 Joe 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 Joe Lieberman is willing to meet with Louis Farrakhan, the black leader in America who referred to Jews as "bloodsuckers,'' Judaism as a "gutter religion'' and Adolph Hitler as a "great'' man and who 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 Louis Farrakhan would be "a time to sort of knit the country together more.''

Oy, vay! (That's Yiddish, and it translates into English, Italian or German as "not on your life.'')


10/02/00: Campaigns, candidates, and kissy-face
09/28/00: Laughing and crying over Joe Lieberman
09/21/00: Targeting teenagers for money
09/21/00: Sexual politics in New York
09/18/00: Surviving the stereotypes and debates
09/14/00: Gloria Steinem runs cheerfully into captivity
09/12/00: Sex in the eye of the partisan
09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate