Burning the Ghetto

Roman ghetto

Via Rua in Ghetto, (rione Sant’Angelo), by Ettore Roesler Franz (c. 1880). Found at Wikipedia

“First they lock us up in this filth, then they try to burn us out! Rabbi, what can we do?”

Natan Ganz was panicking along with most of the other Jewish inhabitants of Rome’s Ghetto. They were trapped. In truth, they’d been trapped for over 240 years, ever since the then Pope ordered the Jewish population segregated from the rest of the Romans.

“Pray. What else can be do but turn our hearts to Hashem? The Ghetto is walled and they’ve locked all three gates!”

“We’re like rats, Rabbi. They mean to exterminate us like vermin!”

“It has always been so, and yet we endure thanks to the blessings of Hashem.”

“I can smell the smoke. The mobs are putting us to the torch.”

“Can’t you smell something else, Natan? Can’t you smell the rain?”

“Baruch Hashem. You’re right Rabbi. It’s raining. A blessing from Hashem, praised be His Name.”

“Rain is always the sign of a blessing. And there, a rainbow.

“Barukh attah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha-olam, zokher haberit vene’eman bivrito v’kaiyam bema’amaro.”

In the Jewish calendar, on Tevet 22 in 1798 C.E. (or A.D if you prefer), mobs attempted to torch the Jewish Ghetto in Rome. Only because the rains came and extinguished the fire were the Jews spared.

My two characters are totally fictional, and perhaps the names I gave them are unrealistic for Roman Jews in the late 18th century, but I wanted to capture this moment in as few words as possible. I also don’t know if a rainbow was seen, but I decided to include the blessing a Jew recites when seeing one. Here is the blessing in English:

“Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who remembers the covenant, and is faithful to His covenant, and keeps His promise.”

You can click the link I provided above to get more about the history of the Ghetto in Rome, but that Ghetto was not to endure much longer. Napoleon’s forces invaded and occupied Rome, and the Ghetto was legally abolished in 1808. The City of Rome finally tore down the Ghetto walls in 1888.

Word count for this piece of flash fiction is 173.