Uncle Sy and Aunt Roberta at the Jewish Museum of Rome.

This past week was special in several ways. The most important was that my Aunt Roberta and Uncle Sy from Dallas spent the week with us! Uncle Sy was my dad’s younger brother, and he’s now the family patriarch. He is also a consummate bargainer – the kids were fascinated by his ability to negotiate with shopkeepers and to castigate wayward cabdrivers.

Despite the intense heat, Sy and Roberta got to experience several great meals, fun shopping, and LOTS of attention from their grand-niece and grand-nephew, who loved hosting them! We also had the opportunity to spend time with two other couples visiting Rome who are dear friends of Sy and Roberta: Ron and Vicky from San Francisco, and Ken and Allen from Hickory, NC. It’s really fun to share this city!

One of our most memorable destinations during their visit was to the Jewish Museum of Rome. Part of what was so remarkable was that the museum is chock full of relics and treasures. In contrast to the Jewish Museum in Munich, which made a point of noting how few relics survived World War 2, the Jewish Museum of Rome showed how Roman Jews have managed to retain treasures over millennia. In fact, we learned that Rome is the only major city in Europe that has never expelled its Jews. That’s not to say that it’s been easy here; some Popes confined Jews to the Ghetto for centuries. But the city has also served as a refuge for Jews expelled from 15th Century Spain, and even from ancient Israel. We were also very moved by the plaque in the synagogue marking the first Jewish American soldier to pray there after Rome was liberated by the Americans near the end of World War 2.

Family!

At the museum store, Sy and Roberta bought Nell a wonderful bracelet and Eli a little candelabra that I think they will always treasure. And then — of course — we sampled some of the great Roman Jewish food that still thrives in the Ghetto (even though most of Rome’s Jews now live elsewhere). The fried artichokes are my favorite; I’ve never seen them outside of Jewish Rome and they are truly special.

On the last night of Sy and Roberta’s visit, we tried a new restaurant that Seth and Eli had spotted earlier in the week: Al Duello. We think it’s the best food we’ve had so far in Rome! It’s run by a husband/wife team, and it’s tiny – but somehow it got noticed and has become incredibly popular on TripAdvisor (which turns out to be super important for restaurants and hotels in Europe). So they are packed every night. But we can see why – my gnocchi with sea bass was delectable, and the starter of burrata cheese (fresh buffalo mozarrella and cream) was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Uncle Sy talked them into sending a little bottle of their house olive oil home with us – a negotiation of his that I particularly appreciated! It was a perfect end to a wonderful visit that meant a great deal to me.

Eli hits the Ambrit soccer field.

The other special thing about this week was that it ended with a visiting day for new students at the kids’ school. Ambrit is a bilingual international school with a lot of turnover from year to year; many of the students are children of United Nations staff and others who are in Rome on a temporary basis. So the school provides a morning before the first day of school that is set aside for new students. Eli and Nell were both pretty nervous before going to the visiting day – after all, they’ll spend more time at school than anywhere else this year. Fortunately – but not surprisingly – they absolutely loved it! Because only the new kids were there (4 in each of their classes), they were able to tour the school and spend time with their new teachers without the usual back-to-school chaos. Seth and I also got to spend the morning at the school, and were very impressed by all the staff that we met.

Both kids loved their new teachers, who seem really great and were very warm and welcoming. They enjoyed seeing many of their favorite English-language book series in the school library. They pored over the information page describing the after school activities they can choose from each day, and puzzled over how to choose between the many offerings: their lists currently include drama and soccer and ceramics and choir and math and basketball and tennis. We parents particularly enjoyed reading the info about the school lunch service – catered fresh with 3 courses each day. For us, not having to make school lunches is a dream come true! They aren’t sure what to do about Nell’s vegetarianism, but she’ll love all the non-meat stuff they serve.

Nell having fun with her new friend.

Most of all, Eli and Nell enjoyed meeting the other new kids. Nell has been very worried about whether she’d make friends – it’s been her biggest concern about moving to Rome. Within 5 minutes of arriving in her new classroom, Nell was laughing and playing with the other new girl in her class. An hour later, they were trying to schedule play-dates with each other. Nell is now totally confident and happy about school. And Eli wasted no time in getting outside to the full-sized grass soccer pitch to kick the ball around with the other new 4th grade boys. Neither of the kids wanted to leave when the visiting morning ended. And happy kids means happy parents!

– Jenny

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