…absolutely be filled with silence and infinite green prairies and red rocks and all the
winding roads in the world as far as you have a camera to document all of this.
And then yes, this silence could also last forever after all.
Being an Italian from Rome and all does make me forget how big the figure of the Pope really is outside of my own country. How his persona is worshipped by so many more people that you could ever imagine. I admire Pope Francis and I strongly believe his reasoning for abolishing the death penalty, suggesting to every Christian and family around the world to take in one or more refugees and believing in love as the stronger form of faith no matter the sexual preferences, but I take him for granted. I alway did. Until today.
I am spoiled to know he will give Mass on every Wednesday and every Sunday in Saint Peter’s Cathedral, which is about 20 minutes from my house in Rome. I am fortunate enough to know his face in real life having see him around my city more than once. But, today in East Harlem I saw a woman who was 82 from Porto Rico and she has been a fedele or worshipper since she was a little girl, then I met Gabriela all dressed-up in Pope paraphernalia and a little girl Nadia, from Mexico, who was ready to film when the little Fiat Cinquecento passed-by with Sua Santita` inside it. I saw all this and I felt privileged. I saw the Pope myself, but hearing the crowds screaming of joy at his presence made me have goose bumps on my arms. These people had only once chance to see the spiritual guidance they have been following for years and it was today and I could participate as well. It may feel cheesy or even too fairy tally, but, especially in East Harlem, where luck and money is not evenly distributed about people who truly need it, the Pope’s presence and his follower’s smiles and giggles, gave the neighborhood a whole different feel. A feel of peace and happiness we should all search for more daily.
And I am still smiling back at the excitement in this kids faces while they waved back at the Pope’s arm barley visibile outside of his car saluting them back.
You and I and most of us are afraid of check-in. Terrorized to take the time and focus on our doubts, our fears, our shortcomings and our flaws and faults. In the Jewish faith there are an entire 40 days dedicated to this process once a year, which sums it all up in the 24-hour-fasting day of Yom Kippur after which technically G-d inscribes you in the book of life and all of your sins are cancelled for the new year to start.
It is obvious that for modern thinker like myself and other Jews among us, this is a silly thought, why would there be a day where all of our bad actions were to be erased and why is this day today? But, most of all, why shall I be re-inscribed in the book of life, I am a human with or without my flaws, my sins and all of it. Actually, I am more so of one with them all. Get off my lawn and stop telling me pre-temple mount lies. But…wait…wait if the reason of having a set-day for such process is what we all need to come together and make a collective effort to pardon one another and, first of all, and most important of it all, ourselves? What if this day was extended to non-Jews as well, but to all of us for the sake of being a lot calmer and a lot more patient with our million judgments towards one another and ourselves? What if we make this day a day to do nothing, but reflecting on your present and past action to be able to look forward and change something about it.
I am afraid and scared of this day all year around, I still dwell on many Bible passages we read tonight and tomorrow and why should I ask pardon to G-d and not myself and other, which are G-dly creatures and indeed part of my own self? I am and always will be a very controversial believer in Judaism and its contorted laws of love and respect, but I still fast, I still walk to synagogue every year since I turned 12 and I wait all year for this day to happen with impatience and with eagerness, because at the end of every Yom Kippur, I feel free. Quiet clique to say, but no word are worth using to explain this feeling of complete emptiness of body and mind. I feel as if I were re-born to start it all new. Maybe it only lasts few minutes or few days, but it is the best feeling one can have.
And no, it is not as if every questions I have in life will be solved or answered to in these days of repentement and I would walk out of the temple with a shiny wise hat on, but I will have a chance to look at things differently, with more detachment and maybe even more compassion and less grief and clinginess. And yes, once again, words are not right or strong enough to explain the feeling one has in this day, in this very moment where I can feel close to every single member of my family doing the same thing or, at least, stopping and thinking about it. And remembering the ones who left us and yet are still with us everyday in every thoughts.
Chatima` Tova` to you all. May this be a new beginning and a very good one.
sai che nel mondo ci sono dei posti che ti trafiggono l`anima solo pensando al profumo che hai sentito essendoci passata quell’ultima volta. quei posti dove ti rivedi bambina e puoi quasi ascoltare le voci di chi ti era vicino allora.
sono i posti le cui memorie ti nutrono dovunque tu sia, dovunque tu ti trovi a fare quel che ti piace fare o quel che devi fare per sopravvivere.
i posti segreti dove i segreti non ci sono mai stati perche` sono i posti in cui ti sei sentita piu` te stessa di sempre. ecco quei posti per me esistono ovunque, in tanti, troppi paesi, in paesi vicini, lontani, in stanze, case, strade, vie buie o illuminate, in mezzo agli alberi di un parco che ha segnato gli anni della mia adolescenza o tra le mura di una citta` storica che mi ha spezzato le ossa con il suo tumultuoso avvenire. sono posti che vedo nei sogni, posti che mi vengono in mente nei momenti piu` cupi, posti che mi basta sentire l`odore della legna che brucia che mi ritrovo a casa.
questi posti sono fatti di cose e persone e di lingue diverse, sono posti magici e dannati insieme, posti di ricordi e di memorie belli e brutte, posti fatti di gente che c’e` ancora e di gente che non ci sta piu`. sono i posti della mia anima, i posti di cui vale la pena portare il ricordo ogni giorno. tutti i giorni. ovunque si e`. ovunque si vada. ovunque si pensi di voler continuare ad andare.
di solito sono posti semplici, che parlano solo a noi. posti anche poco belli, cosi` poco significativi per molti. ma sono i posti in cui ci sentiamo di poterci lasciare andare di poter essere vulnerabili fino all`ultimo. dove non dobbiamo controllare nulla. possiamo lasciare andare ogni freno inibitorio. questi posti, ecco. proprio di questi posti qui io vi voglio parlare.
insomma voglio parlarvi dei posti che sono posti nostri e basta. di nessun altro, per nessun altro.
Perché poi il vero problema non è non riuscire a trovare quello che cercavi, ma goderti la ricerca e pian pianino scoprire cos’era che andavi così tanto cercando e perché.
La sommità dei problemi della nostra vita viene forse dal fatto che ci inganniamo spesso da soli. Crediamo a menzogne che ci raccontiamo perché ci sentiamo da esse protette o, semplicemente, corazzati, così tanto da essere immuni ai sentimenti veri, quelli che fanno male sul serio e che se ci sfiorano ci lasciano un graffio tagliente come quello di un coltello affilato a nuovo.
Però la forza dell`abitudine e l’essersi tarati su queste bugie protettrici ci protegge si, ma anche dal bene che il sentirsi vivo con anche i dolori più dolorosi ci potrebbe portare.
Però via, dai, non si può mica passare tutta una vita a ‘provare di vivere’ si ci deve scagliare petto in fuori ed arpioni puntanti, guardando la gente che ci sta davanti, dal di dentro del loro più temibile difetto e ci si deve metter tempo nel farlo, accuratamente e gentilmente come quando si apre un dono. Senza strapparlo via tutto d`un fiato, ma scartandone pezzo, pezzo tutti i nastri e gli strati di carta.
Un tempo spesso irrisorio e lunghissimo e forse dannatamente noioso se poi non si scopre altro che ancora più carta dentro di esso, ma pur sempre tempo ben speso perché tempo percorso per conoscere ciò che alla fine non si cercava affatto o forse, a volte, ciò che si è sempre cercato.
Ma partire ferrati sul voler trovare, delimita già un territorio pietroso e scosceso dove non può che intuirsi solo come un sbaglio questo nostro impuntarsi su quel che speriamo trovabile. Se invece si percorre la via adagio e la si percorre come se il tempo che passa non porti con se solo un agguato, ma consiglio ad ogni minuto battuto, allora trovare e scoprire potrebbero in qualche strano modo anche convenire a portarci i risultati sperati.
She was the daughter of a grocer; he was the son of a silver merchant. They lived two blocks away from one another for years, but only met at a dance party in the city center of Rome when he came back from the army one day and she happened to like dancing. She wanted to keep studying literature and arts and he was ready to settle down and build a family of his own. He convinced her with a box of the most delicious chocolate on a bench in the Italian capital, she said yes.
“I was so overwhelmed with feeling we were able to do whatever we wished I was barely conscious that day was my wedding day. The war had forced me to hide for over nine months, now I could have my own hand-made wedding dress, walk to the altar and get married,” she said. “We were two impulsive young rascals, but we were free!”
Her name is Paola Toscano, she is 85 years old and she is my grandmother. On September 29, 1943 she hid inside the private home of a baker with her own family to escape the Nazi. She was 13 years old. They lived in hiding until June 5, 1944. His name was Bruno Valabrega, he was 87 when he passed away three years ago. He was my grandfather. His parents were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau on October 16, 1943 and never came back to Rome. He was an orphan when he met my grandmother. They married on November 4, 1951 at the Tempio Maggiore (Great Syn-agogue) in Rome, Italy six years after the Americans freed the Italian capital from the Germans.
Their wedding was a dream wedding after a terrible past had been finally left behind. My grandparents had no idea who the Rabbi who married them that cold, autumn day would have become. His name was Rabbi Elio Toaff and that wedding was the first of many he celebrated af-ter having been elected Chief Rabbi of Rome.
“Nobody knew him at the time. He was so young and he had big shoes to fill,” said my grandmother. “We all got to know him better with the years. He surprised us all.”
Toaff was a third generation Rabbi born on April 30, 1915 in Livorno, Tuscany. He was 36 years old when he joined the Rabbinate of Rome after having escape a Nazi execution himself and having been the Chief Rabbi of Venice until then.
He was full of energy and focused on practical things. All he wanted to do is put the com-munity of Rome back on its feet. Of the 1,067 Jews deported on October 16, 1943, less than 40 re-turned. The community was dismantled and fearful. The shadow of the Nazi had left everyone al-ienated and unable to trust anyone. Toaff was there to be a spiritual and political guide.
“If we want to rebuild this community, we must start with the school,” said Toaff to his dear friend and neighbour Davide Limentani when he asked for help rebuilding the Jewish gan.
Toaff knew through teachings children, he would have been able to reach out to the trust and interests of their families. So little by little, one by one, everyone would have come back to synagogue abandoning fears and reconnecting with their Jewish roots and hopefully find their way back into the rest of society.
“He was a grandpa to us all,” said an adult man standing by the entrance to the synagogue the day of Toaff’s funeral, April 20, 2015. “You could ask him advice for everything, anytime you needed. He was there for us back when we had no direction and no idea on where to go. He lead us out of our Egypt.”
To really understand who Toaff really was one just needed to look around in front of Tem-pio Maggiore Monday morning when the body of the Rabbi was laid for a last goodbye. There was a whole world that attended the commemoration of his life. Not only Jews or members of the Jewish communities around the world, such as, Chief Rabbis of Belgium, Paris and Russia, but poli-ticians, members of the Vatican and even tourists who heard the news on the radio or read about it on the local papers and have just known the former Chief Rabbi from the words of others.
He would always hide a cheerful smile underneath his scars, white beard. No matter what day he was having, he never missed an occasion to be sarcastic and tell a joke. He had one for eve-ryone, even for himself.
“Life has to catch me alive,” said Toaff last year to Limentani when asked how did he feel. “It is his humans side I will miss the most, not the one of spiritual guidance, but the one of a friend for every situation. I will miss knowing he is no longer behind the door in front of my house.”
This was how we remember Rabbi Elio Toaff, former Chief Rabbi of Rome, Italy for half a century who would be blowing 100 candles today.
Jerusalem, my dear, I have enjoyed five months worth of photo-taking adventures, which led me all over the country this time and started me on a political discourse that may never see the end of the days. I have discovered the depths of a conflict that is breaching endlessly in all matters and all conversations. I felt the depths of my soul until there was no more to see and no more to discuss about. And, now that I have reached that point, I am ready to go. Ready to stop sitting on the uncomfortable chair overlooking the edge of the holiest city of all. I am through with its controversy and its political discourse, I am turning around and getting back to another chair, somewhere far away where the views are slightly different and the resolutions maybe a bit easier to achieve. Yet, Jerusalem, once again, you outdid yourself and have given me perspective on somewhere else to end-up, somewhere else I need to call home, somewhere else I must feel to dig roots and grow tall from, a place to call mine, because, as holy as you get, living in your proximity it is just still too hard for me…despite the energy you emanate and the subtle layers of content you are beaming of, you remain a city at war, a place where one cannot feel like simply living even as a Jew. Jerusalem, dear, you remain beautiful and damned by human hands, confused and chaotic and yet almost apparently pristine at times, and when one misses you, it is like missing a part of oneself, but once one has you it feel much like the same: A sickness to the stomach with no end and no begin, no explanation and no real reasons. Jerusalem, you will have my heart always, but just a piece of it, the rest I take with me, somewhere where I will find a more comfortable chair, I will sit on it and decide to call it home. But thank you, Jerusalem. Thank you for lending me that chair once more, it always get a good use, but it is not soft enough for me to sit in it for too long…
To us photographers, we have always been taught to look for the right light.
Find it. Feel it. Capture it. Make it look authentic. And repeat. Redo. Remake.
We do it incessantly. We are hunted by it everywhere we go. There is never a moment when we are not looking at the light and rather at our subject matter’s expression only. We see the light. We frame it perfectly on whomever or whatever it is we have to photograph and then we search for more light, more shadows on someone’s face, more hidden folds on someone’s dress, more shinning reflections and strong beams all over.
We are tireless, obsessive, almost compulsively looking for that triangle of light that will give our images the best texture and that will hide imperfections and identify qualities.
The magical light that will reveal it all, but keep it concealed at the same time.
But what about if the light we are chasing and constantly photographing is indeed something we should look closely into for ourselves? What if we had to stick with it? Stay with it and see until it turn darker and darker when we cannot see it anymore? Go in, inside that light very little until it is not good anymore. And not photograph it, but only feel it for ourselves.
What if we became the subject matter for a bit and were put on the stage, but nobody was behind to take our pictures? We just stood still. Frozen in the space between light and darkness, between the taking of the image, and the moment right before and right after the shutter closes…
I am here now.
The light is mine to steal.
I am suspended in the space between.
And I will be here for a bit.
Just the time to take the light in.
And breath it back out.
I am here now.
Taking it in.
And it is here I am supposed to be.
The light is mine to steal.
Will hold on to it until I need.