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5 THINGS THAT YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT JEWISH GHETTO OF VENICE

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CURIOSITIES AND ANECDOTES ABOUT THE GHETTO MOST ANCIENT AND FASCINATING OF EUROPE

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1. THE ORIGIN OF THE NAME GHETTO WAS BORN HERE

Well yes! The word ghetto, so widespread in all languages, derives its origin from here, from the Venetian word “geto”. In ancient times, in the early Middle Ages, in this side of the town there was an old foundry (a “Geto” in Venetian) which was used to forge the mortars, small cannons of Venetian ships. When, for political reasons, in 1516 the Serenissima Republic established by law that all Jews should live and reside here, the population came mostly from Europe and Central and due to their pronunciation, the Venetian term “Geto” , it was crippled in “gheto” (read in the German accent), giving rise to the term we use today around the world.

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2. IS THE JEWISH GHETTO MOST ANCIENT OF EUROPE

The Jewish presence in Venice dates back to before the year one thousand, although a consistent and permanent settlement only took place in the late fourteenth century. Gradually, despite the alternation of permits and travel restrictions in the city, the Jews in Venice became a considerable nucleus and the Government of the Republic of Venice felt the need to organize its presence. With the decree of 29 March 1516, it established such obligations and restrictions for the entire Jewish population. It was also decided that everyone should live in this area of the city, without being able to get out or at night or during the Christian holidays.

The ghetto area already at that time it appeared as today: a small island, surrounded by canals, whose accesses were allowed only by two bridges. In correspondence of these at one time there were strong gates, which were locked and guarded at night, because the residents were allowed to leave the district only during the day with special distinguishing marks. If you look closely, still today, you can see the holes where the sinking of the gates hinges.

3. THE GHETTO “VECCHIO”, “NOVO” AND “NOVISSIMO”. WHEN A NAME  COULD CONFUSES OUR IDEAS!

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The area of the Jewish ghetto is divided into 3 parts: the “gheto vechio” (vechio in venetian dialect means old), the “gheto novo” (new ghetto) and “gheto novissimo” (newest ghetto), and though it may seem strange “gheto novo” is paradoxically the oldest Jewish ghetto area of Venice. The old or new adjective has nothing to do with the historical period of the area but it’s simply linked to the age of the foundry (the Geto) that was there located.

At the time of the decree, was in fact, just the new ghetto area to be used as a first home for the Jewish population. Shortly afterwards, however, it was no longer sufficient to accommodate all the Venetian authorities found themselves forced to expand the new ghetto. In 1541 it was added to the old ghetto, given to so-called Levantine Jews, who came from the Iberian peninsula and from the Ottoman Empire and in 1633 was opened the new ghetto, a small area east of the new ghetto, beyond the channel.

In the area of gheto novo, nestled between the two most ancient Venetian synagogues, there is also the Jewish Museum: a small but rich museum founded in 1954 by the Jewish Community of Venice. The museum can be visited at a cost of € 8 and is divided into two areas: the first dedicated to the cycle of Jewish holidays and the liturgy, it contains books and ancient manuscripts, goldsmith and textile manufacture dating from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century and objects of religious life of the community; the second area of the museum tells the story of the Jewish ghetto and the persecution of the Jews, from its origins to the concentration camps of the second World War, through images and objects. Adding a few Euros to the ticket you can also visit with a guide some of the Ghetto synagogues.

4. “MONEY LENDER” WAS NOT A CHOICE! THE RED, GREEN AND BLACK PAWNSHOP

Today the term “money lender” or “usurer” assumes the negative connotation that we all know, but at one time it was not so. In the Middle Ages the term “usury” specify any interest demanded for loans in cash or kind.

In Venice this activity was initially carried out by Christians in the “Monti di Pietà” old pawnshops, however were soon considered contrary to the dictates of the Christian religion and then closed. The closure of the Monti di Pieta was a major problem in the lagoon city, as were many people who were using, so this work was required by law to the Jewish community.

Inside the ghetto were then established three Pawnshop: il banco rosso (red pawnshop), il banco verde (green pawnshop) e il banco nero (black pawnshop), presumably due to the color of the receipts that were delivered to customers.

These three banks survived until the end of the Republic (1797), then went lost his memory. Fortunately, today it’s possible to visit again one of these banks il Banco Rosso, which has recently been restored and opened to visitors.

A curiosity ☛ Here in Venice, it’s said that the italian expression “andare in rosso – go in red” to indicate someone get in debt, derived from this ancient Venetian pawnshop!

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5. THE SOUL OF VENICE SYNAGOGUES

You just can’t approach to the soul of the Jewish quarter if you don’t starting from its synagogues.

Inside of the Gheto Novo you can see three of the five synagogues of the Ghetto. The oldest is the synagogue (or Schola) of Germany, one of the Ashkenazi Jews, which is located in the same building of the Jewish Museum. At the corner of the square there is the Canton Synagogue and there near the Italian Schola. Moving to the ghetto old are the two most recent synagogues: the Spanish and the synagogue or Levantine Schola.

The ghetto synagogues are hardly recognizable from the outside, being drawn inside of existing buildings and are all on the top floor, as for religion can’t be anything above the synagogue.

The synagogue is considered something more complex than a place of prayer. They are gathering places where were taken the most important decisions for the community, where celebrate the most important steps for the person and where is read and comment pieces of the holy book, the Torah. Because the meeting will take place, there must be at least 10 men present. All present may also read parts of the Bible, but only the rabbi can comment on them. Women who wish take part in these meetings can be assisted by a separate area than men, in a raised or separated area by special grates.

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SOME CURIOSITIES ABOUT THE GHETTO

THE JEWISH COOKING. If you want to let yourself down even more in touch with the spirit and the hour is the right one for a break, you may taste some Jewish specialties at the restaurant “Gam Gam Kosher”, or, for a quick snack, at the baker “panificio Giovanni Volpe” you will find fresh bread and typical pastries of the Jewish tradition.

LA KIPPAH. As a sign of respect when you visit the synagogues, you need to cover your head with Kippah, a small hat of cloth usually located near the ‘entrance. The Jewish population uses cover their heads not only in synagogues, but also in everyday life. They wear it in the morning with the morning prayer and take it off in the evening with the evening prayer. But what is the reason of this tradition to wear the Kippah? Here are the words of Rabbi Abraham Shemtov Chabad in response to US President R. Reagan who in 1984 asked the same question:

“Mr President, the Kippah for us is a sign of reverence. We put Kippah on the highest point of our being – our head, the vessel of our intellect – to remind ourselves and the world that there’s something that is beyond human understanding – the infinite wisdom of God.”

RIVALRY IN THE GHETTO. In the ghetto, it seems that at one time, there was a certain rivalry between Jews of different origins. The Levantine, for example, the latest arrivals in the ghetto, received the a long time residence after being established there. Seems in fact, that the Jews who resided first, as the ghetto was very crowded, did all they could, even with persistent letters to the doge, to prevent the Levantine they got a residence permit.

THE TORAH which is read in the synagogue is written strictly by hand, with a natural ink and with special pens that are handed down for centuries. Whoever does the transcription work, has a sacred task and can not go wrong. In order to follow more easily the reading of the Torah in the synagogue, using the silver sticks that mark the point at which they have arrived with the reading.

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More info:

JEWISH MUSEUM: http://www.museoebraico.it/

JEWISH VENICE COMMUNITY: http://www.jvenice.org/

JEWISH GHETTO MAP: http://www.museoebraico.it/Mev%20mappa.pdf

PAWNSHOP BANCOROSSO:  http://www.bancorosso.org/

Photos: museoebraico.it

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