Saturday, 22 March 2008

Letter 10 - February 18, (1919)

Rome, Excelsior

Dear Family,-

We’re about to leave here for Taranto where we have gotten passage on a British transport to Port Said. We have sleepers this time - it’s an eighteen hour trip and we’re due tomorrow afternoon. The boat requires two days in crossing so we’ll be in Egypt on the 21st and in Palestine just one month after leaving New York. It seems like six – so much has been happening.

Two days ago we set out on a sight-seeing expedition. Szold and I went to the Forum. By accident we came across an old fellow who, for 5 lira per hour, volunteered to act as our guide. He was dirty and unkempt but without exception he was the best guide I’ve ever met. He was an old pensioned school teacher – he spoke fairly good English – he claimed to have read many books on the history and excavations of the Forum. So after a time we tried to stump him and thru the morning and afternoon, when the rest of the party joined us we questioned him about every detail – to be answered spontaneously and correctly. He held the Romans in great contempt and would occasionally launch forth into lengthy arguments over the corruption and vice practiced.

The excavations themselves are interesting – but are very hard to properly appreciate. Here we find an arch erected 650 B.C. and there a temple finished in 400 A.D. Of course the place reached its fullest glory during J. Caesar’s time and declined steadily after him. It is apparent that bo time until the present has anybody felt the value of history. It is apparent that the grossest vandalism was constantly practiced by each succeeding generation. And yet enough remains today to give us some slight conception of the size and grandeur of the place – the glorious artistry of it – built totally disregarding the value of the human lives expended at its erection.

Adjoining the forum are the palaces of various early rulers. There still remain in some of the rooms beautifully designed mosaic flooring, laboriously achieved with minute squares of colored marble. Also there remain, sometimes in very good condition, a number of wall frescoes painted with hot wax and coloring. We found the dining room, the kitchen, the library and the room where the palate was tickled with a feather at the banquets in order to make more room for more food.

In the evening we met a number of boys who had left Poland and Russia three months ago to go to Palestine. For three months they have travelled – there are 150 of them in Italy at present – first to Trieste via Vienna, then to Genoa then to Roma. Now, being practically penniless, tho the majority of them came from well-to-do parents, they are compelled to find work until the British Govt finds means for transporting them to Egypt.

You know it’s the first time I’ve come face to face with the reality of Zionism. Here for the first time I see a group of boys leaving their homes, leaving their families with no means of communicating with them, leaving everything, every comfort every pleasure – to live in Palestine. They are all boys – seventeen years old is the youngest – filed with enthusiasm, anxious to get there. All are well educated – one is a musician who has spent six years at the Vienna conservatory – half are academic students. They came here with news that there are six thousand now in Vienna, who just like themselves are anxiously awaiting their opportunity of getting to Palestine.

Zionism is up against the first real problem, the first practical problem since its conception. To date it has been the subject of polite conversation, a subject of religious discussion, a subject of sentiment, emotion, and finally a subject of vital political issue. For all of this it is well supplied with speakers, thinkers, writers, financiers, diplomats of the highest ability. But with one exception – I have met with no one who appears to be in any way a capable, practical, common-sense individual.

And the great problem is this – What’s to be done with these hundreds, eventually these thousands of students, dreamers, thinkers, idealists who are beginning to flock to Palestine. Of course there are trees to be planted, there are a few Bezallel knick-nacks to be hammered and welded – but all this is of no practical – no fundamental value to a young colony (except for advertising purposes).

And when these thousands of young enthusiasts flock to Palestine only to find that there is nothing to do and disappointedly return home then what’s to become of this fine and lofty conception of the “Home Land”. Heroic measures are necessary to save the situation – and I don’t believe that the enormity of the problem is realized by Dr. Weitzman himself. Within a week we’ll be able to see the real condition – and I hope to be able to accomplish something.

Yesterday we visited the Vatican – for three hours. It would take three months to properly see the place and three years to really appreciate it. It contains more masterpieces in the art of sculpture than I knew existed in the world, it contains priceless books, it contains a number of Raphael’s and Michalangelo’s most famous painting, it contains the beautifully frescoed Sistine Chapel. To describe it in its entirety is impossible. Afterwards we went to a little church which contains the famous statue of Moses. In the evening we had supper with one Dr. Stern, a most active individual of 71 years, who, tho he’s never been to Eng. Or Amer. speaks flawless English. He tried to arrange a meeting for us with the old Luzzati, a Jew, formerly prime minister and then sec. of the Treasury and now a power in the legislature of Italy. He, however, was indisposed and sent his regrets.

Today we’ve spent getting the necessary visas, etc. – we’ve become quite hardened to filling out our life histories on the blanks of various offices.

Lots of love


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