March 29, 2016 is the 500th anniversary of the world’s first and oldest Jewish ghetto.
In the early 13th century, persecuted Jews from Europe and the Levant settled in Venice. The more the community grew, the more restrictions were placed on its members. In March 1516 the local Doges forced all Jews to confine to a segregated area, a ‘geti’. The term originated here, corrupting overtime to ghetto.
Venice is like a fairy tale – a city with ethereal beauty floating on water. Magnificent, ancient palazzos, crumbling and vulnerable. It’s hard to believe that amid such grace the first ghetto would be conceived.
The Ghetto celebrates its 500th birthday with panache. Venice has a major exhibition for the occasion entitled ‘Venice, the Jews and Europe (1516 to 2016)’. "The Merchant of Venice" will be performed at the Campo, the central plaza of the ghetto. Exclusive symphonies and parties are planned as well.
In 1797 Napoleon seized the city and allowed Jews to live wherever they chose. Only a handful of Jews live there now. Still, the old ghetto is the heart of the Jewish community. The Sephardic Orthodox Synagogues is a stunning tribute to the best Venetian Architecture. They are also a testament to the fiscal status of the community. Families rent their own bench sections and they also pray there and affix their names on brass plaques. Some great historians and scholars arose of this ancestry. Of the remaining 450 Jews in the city, many are intellectuals, writers and spiritual leaders. It’s in their blood. Despite living in confinement, the cultural exchange at the 17th century ghetto was unparalleled. Jews arrived from all over Europe, exchanging new ideas, debating and learning. The city was a treasure box of ivory, spices, fragrances, rubies and the best of Arabia, China and India. Jewish merchants and bankers moved these commodities, made money awhile keeping their spirituality.
I&rsquom getting ready to visit. How about you? Join us on our Greek Isles cruise with is roundtrip from Venice –