The Gheto di Venezia in Venice

January 10th, 2018 | Destination: | Rubric: General |

Campo de Gheto Novo © Didier Descouens/cc-by-sa-4.0

Campo de Gheto Novo © Didier Descouens/cc-by-sa-4.0

The Venetian Ghetto was the area of Venice in which Jews were compelled to live by the government of the Venetian Republic. The English word ghetto is derived from the Jewish ghetto in Venice. The Venetian Ghetto was instituted on 29 March 1516 and is the oldest Jewish ghetto in the world. It was not the first time that Jews in Venice were compelled to live in a segregated area of the city. In 1797 the French army of Italy, commanded by the 28-year-old General Napoleon Bonaparte, conquered Venice, dissolved the Venetian republic, and ended the ghetto’s separation from the city. In the 19th century, the ghetto was renamed the Contrada dell’unione. The Ghetto is an area of the Cannaregio sestiere of Venice, divided into the Ghetto Nuovo (“New Ghetto”), and the adjacent Ghetto Vecchio (“Old Ghetto”). These names of the ghetto sections are misleading, as they refer to an older and newer site at the time of their use by the foundries: in terms of Jewish residence, the Ghetto Nuovo is actually older than the Ghetto Vecchio.

Though it was home to a large number of Jews, the population living in the Venetian Ghetto never assimilated to form a distinct, “Venetian Jewish” ethnicity. Four of the five synagogues were clearly divided according to ethnic identity: separate synagogues existed for the German (the Scuola Grande Tedesca), Italian (the Scuola Italiana), Spanish and Portuguese (the Scuola Spagnola), and Levantine Sephardi communities (the Scuola Levantina). The fifth, the Scuola Canton, was built as a private synagogue for the four families, one of them the Fano family, who funded its construction, and also served the Venetian Ashkenazi community. Today, there are also other populations of Ashkenazic Jews in Venice, mainly Lubavitchers who operate a kosher food store, a yeshiva, and a Chabad synagogue. Languages historically spoken in the confines of the Ghetto include Venetian, Italian, Judeo-Spanish, French, and German. In addition, Hebrew was traditionally (and still is) used on signage, inscriptions, and for official purposes such as wedding contracts (as well as, of course, in religious services). Today, English is widely used in the shops and the Museum because of the large number of English-speaking tourists.

Campo de Gheto Novo © Didier Descouens/cc-by-sa-4.0 Campo de Gheto Novo © Deror avi/cc-by-sa-3.0 Campo de Gheto Novo © Marc Ryckaert/cc-by-sa-4.0 Campo de Gheto Novo © Marc Ryckaert/cc-by-sa-4.0 Info Point of the Jewish Community of Venice © Jveniceorg/cc-by-sa-3.0 Main square of the Venetian Ghetto © Didier Descouens/cc-by-sa-4.0
Info Point of the Jewish Community of Venice © Jveniceorg/cc-by-sa-3.0
Today, the Ghetto is still a center of Jewish life in the city. The Jewish Community of Venice, that counts about 450 people, is still culturally very active, although only a few members live in the Ghetto. Every year, there is an international conference on Hebrew Studies, with particular reference to the history and culture of the Veneto. Other conferences, exhibitions and seminars are held throughout the course of the year. The temples not only serve as places of worship but also provide lessons on the sacred texts and the Talmud for both children and adults, along with courses in Modern Hebrew, while other social facilities include a kindergarten, an old people’s home, the kosher guest house Giardino dei Melograni, the kosher restaurant Locanda del Ghetto, and a bakery. Along with its architectural and artistic monuments, the community also boasts a Museum of Jewish Art, the Renato Maestro Library and Archive and the new Info Point inside the Midrash Leon da Modena.

In the Ghetto area there is also a yeshiva, several Judaica shops, and a Chabad synagogue run by Chabad of Venice. Although only few of the roughly 500 Venetian Jews still live in the Ghetto, many return there during the day for religious services in the two synagogues which are still used (the other three are only used for guided tours, offered by the Jewish Community Museum). Chabad of Venice also runs a pastry shop and a restaurant named “Gam Gam” in the Ghetto. Sabbath meals are served at the restaurant’s outdoor tables along the Cannaregio Canal with views of the Guglie Bridge near the Grand Canal. In the novel Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan the restaurant is the site of a historical mystery. Every year for the festival of Sukkot a sukkah is built on a canal boat that tours the city, a large menorah tours the city on a canal boat during Hanukkah.

Read more on Jewish Community of Venice, GAM GAM Kosher Restaurant and Wikipedia Venetian Ghetto. Photos by Wikimedia Commons.

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