Ghetto hopping in Veneto, Italy

posted 27 Jun 2018, 11:47 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin

Ghetto hopping in

Veneto, Italy

What’s old is new again!

The first Jewish Ghetto ever was born here, in Venice. Not "first" as a phenomenon of a Jewish neighbourhood, of course; you could find "Giudecca" in most any reasonably sized town of Medieval Italy, just as in most of Southern and Western Europe. But the Venetian Ghetto was the first one to be called that.

In the middle ages, the legality of the Jews' settling in Venice was an on-and-off kind of affair. Gradually, the numbers and influence of the Jewish community grew considerably. In spite of that, in 1516 the republic formally enacted a decree to isolate the Jews of Venice (alongside a bunch of other friendly decrees and regulations, including special taxes, always wearing a sign of identification, and having to manage the city's pawnshops at obscenely low rates).

The Jews were moved to a small, dirty island formerly used by metalworkers as a site of foundries (geti, or "ghetto"). The first Jews to comply with the new order were of Italian and German origins. The area of their settlement was the one most recently used as a foundry, thus known as the "New Foundry" (Ghetto Nuovo).

The Jews of Sephardic origin, who had recently relocated here escaping The Inquisition, settled in the older foundry area (Ghetto Vecchio, respectively). More than a hundred years later, yet another area was added to the growing Jewish Quarter. It became known as the Newest Ghetto (Novissimo). Thus, of the three Jewish neighbourhoods of the old Venice, the new Ghetto is older than the old Ghetto. It actually does sound very Jewish, doesn't it?

In total, there were 5 synagogues in Venice, and they are still around for all to see; two Ashkenazi, one Italian, and two Sephardi.

The Jews remained tethered to the Ghetto through the end of the 18th c. when they received full emancipation from Napoleon.

The Holocaust saw at least 25% of the 2,000 Venetian Jews murdered by the Nazis, while most of the rest managed to escape either to Switzerland or the southern territories held by the Allies.

Today, the Jewish community in Venice is small but thriving. Of the hundreds of Jews here no more than a dozen live in the former ghetto area (which of course has become a rather lucrative place to live in). The community is mostly Orthodox, boasting a Jewish museum, kosher restaurant and grocery shop, a mikveh, a senior home, and a Jewish bookstore. The two active synagogues are used for half a year each (both built by the Sephardic Jews; one for the Iberian refugees, the other - for the Levantine émigrés), switching at the High Holy Days and Pesach.

The other three synagogues come under the auspices of the Jewish museum. Should you come to Venice, the Jewish sites alone should keep you busy for at least a few days,

Of course, you should not forget to do all the usual stuff - the Rialto Bridge, San Marco Square, the Doge's Palace, the Grand Canal Tour, and the Gondola cruises for the romantics among us.

Shabbat Shalom,