Friday, June 15, 2007

Il ghetto

The word ghetto - which is Venetian in origin - means iron foundry. Until 1390, Venice's could be found on a tiny island in the sestiere of Canareggio. In 1516, the city's 5000 Jews were confined to that same small area and would remain there for more than 250 years when they were liberated by, of all people, Napoleon. It ended up incidentally, they were actually safer confined than they were free. The original inhabitants were mostly Ashkenazim from Germany. They were joined later by Sephardim escaping Spain and Portugal, and finally by Levantine Jews from the Ottoman Empire.
In spite of overcrowded conditions, this population managed to build five synagogues - all of which remain today. The three oldest which retain many of their original features are, of course, in the most fragile condition and are used only for special occasions - weddings, bar mitzvahs (can you imagine, especially if you could trace your family history back to Venice, having a ceremony in a 16th Century synagogue??!!). The two newer are used for both Friday night and Saturday morning services each week. (Photography is prohibited, thus no photo posted.)
Today, the Jewish population of Venice is just 320 and our guide explained that with such a small number it is difficult to keep up schools and other necessary facilities but they do their best. They do have historically magnificent synagogues in which to worship.
You can google "Jewish Ghetto in Venice" to learn more. It is a truly fascinating story.

On a completely other note, Marcia left for Paris this afternoon - it was such fun to share with her the first week filled with adventures! And, she'll be baaaaack... for three days at the end of the month. A couple of hours after her departure, Chris arrived. The last time we saw each other was two years ago, in this very place. Fun to be back here together and I'm sure he won't mind me saying that's he was very happy to leave Naples.

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