Arch of Titus, 1948
This photograph shows a large crowd of Jewish people standing under the Arch of Titus in Rome. They are there to celebrate the establishment of the State of Israel. Many of the people pictured were European refugees who were waiting to go to Israel. In the photograph, people are holding banners in celebration and appreciation. They carry messages such as “Long Live the Hebrew State,” and “Thank you to the United States and Russia for helping establish the state.”
It is no accident that the celebration was held near the Arch of Titus, a monument honoring the victory of the emperor Titus. The monument has a relief depicting the expulsion of the Jews from Israel after the Romans destroyed the Second Temple. Part of the relief shows a Menorah and other holy vessels being taken to Rome. Other remnants of the Jews’ expulsion after the destruction of the Temple remain in Rome, as well. The Colosseum, Rome’s massive amphitheatre, was built by Jews who had fled Jerusalem and were taken as slaves by the Romans.
The Arch became a symbol of the Jews’ exile and destruction, and for years some Jews had the tradition not to pass under it. Once the State of Israel was established and the Jews were able to return to their homeland, the tradition was annulled. For this reason, in this occasion the Jews walked through the Arch in the opposite direction to that of the exiles on the arch. The demonstrators were purposely walking towards Jerusalem, as if leaving Rome purposefully and declaring their victorious return to the land after thousands of years of exile.
This photograph could be included in Jewish Studies classes when teaching about Yom Ha’Atzmaut. This photograph also tells a story that goes back to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the Jewish diaspora, and could be appropriate when teaching about Tisha B'av.
Photography and Media classes could use this when discussing the impact of photos that changed the world.
In addition, this photograph can be used in History classes to enhance units on the aftermath of World War II or when learning about the different Aliyot (immigrations) to Israel.
Where was this photograph taken and when?
Who are the people in the photograph?
What do you think they are they doing?
Can you identify anything written on their banners?
Reading Between the Lines
Why was the Arch of Titus a significant place for the Jewish people?
What is the symbolism of celebrating Israel's independence under the Arch of Titus?
Why would the demonstrators march through the arch towards the direction of Jerusalem?
The people in the photograph were most probably refugees living in displaced persons (DP) camps after World War II. Many were waiting to go to Israel, but had been turned away by the British, who limited the number of immigrants allowed to enter Palestine.
Find out more about refugee and internment camps here.
What was it like for these people?
Can you think of other times in Jewish history when Jews celebrated all around the world?
What do you think other celebrations in 1948 looked like?
Where do you think the Jews of London celebrated?
Where do you think the Jews of New York celebrated?
Imagine you are one of the people in the photograph. Write a letter to the emperor Titus. What will you tell him?
Imagine you are charged with creating a monument to be placed near the Arch of Titus in recognition of the Jewish State.
What will the monument look like?
What will it say?
Have a conversation with someone who remembers the establishment of the State in 1948, a family member or friend – and record their memories of the day.