Discovering Venice Like a Local with a Visit to the Jewish Ghetto
At Prontopia, we are passionate about welcoming travelers to join us in discovering Venice like a Local. Exploring the authentic neighborhoods of Venice will enrich your visit to this exceptional city. To understand the full extent of the history and culture of Venice it is necessary to venture beyond San Marco to fascinating off-the-beaten path areas of this majestic city. This is one of the best ways to visit Venice respectfully.
Today we are visiting the Jewish Ghetto of Venice, in the charming less touristy neighborhood of Cannaregio. (Travel Tip: Travelers can enjoy help with how to get from the train station to Venice city center by walking to Cannaregio with help from Prontopia Locals who love to show visitors their favorite hidden gems of the neighborhood.)
The Jewish Ghetto in Venice was established by the government of the Venetian Republic in 1516, in an area of the city that previously served as a foundry (in Venetian dialect, the word geto means casting, related to the nearby foundry). The word ghetto in reference to neighborhoods confining minority groups thus traces its origins to Venice. At its height in the 17th century, the Venice Ghetto had more than 5,000 inhabitants. In 1797, Napoleon abolished the city’s decrees requiring that Jews live in the Ghetto. What was World’s first ghetto is now a vivacious local quarter of the city where the heart of Venetian Jewish life organized around its five original synagogues can still be found.
We are fortunate for the chance to interview two amazing women from this historic Venetian community: Manuela Fano and Anna Campos, the co-presidents of the ADEI-WIZO of Venice. ADEI (Associazione delle Donne Ebree d’Italia/Association of Jewish Women of Italy), is the Italian division of WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization), founded in 1927 as an association that promotes culture and social help in the Jewish community and in direct response to the needs of women and children in Israel.
How far back did the first member of your family arrive to live in the Jewish Ghetto of Venice?
Manuela Fano: The Fano family has been living in Venice for centuries, and has been very important for the Jewish community of Venice. There are banners commemorating some Fanos in the Jewish Museum of Venice. My ancestor Amelia Fano founded the Association of Jewish Women of Italy (ADEI) in Venice in 1928. During the World War II deportations of Jews from Italy, my family moved to Switzerland. They moved back to Italy at the end of the war. I was born in Venice few years later and we did not live in the ghetto, but first in S. Mark quarter and then, when my father retired, we moved to Lido of Venice.
Anna Campos: My husband’s family, the Calimani family, has lived in Venice since the 1400s. The history of the Calimani family is basically part of the history of Venice itself.How has daily life for Locals in the Ghetto changed during your lifetime?
Manuela Fano: Just as all of the city of Venice has changed, so too has the Ghetto changed a lot over the past 50 years. The ghetto has become more of a tourist attraction than before and many shops have opened up just for touristic purposes, rather than serving local residents.
Anna Campos: As the younger generations of Venetian Jews leave Venice, in recent years we have had some foreigners coming to live here instead: some families from Israel, the Middle East and also other parts of Italy. Our community has thus become a little more multicultural in the past years.How would you characterize the Venetian Jewish community today?
Manuela Fano: Our Community organizes many cultural events like book presentations, talks and conferences, in order to preserve the uniqueness of this place, its history and traditions, that has existed throughout the centuries. The community meets up to celebrate shabbat and other Jewish festivities where many foreigners participate as well to the religious functions. Besides that the Community organizes lectures of Jewish language and culture for kids and adults and ADEI organizes weekly cultural meetings for its members.
Are there any Hannukah traditions that are particular to Jewish Venetian culture that you enjoy celebrating?
Anna Campos: Like all the Jews in the world we celebrate Hannukah as per the tradition. In this period of the year ADEI organizes the Winter Bazar: a market where we sell second hand objects, clothes, books, new bags and kids clothes, and, much appreciated and required, the venetian typical sweets for Pesach (Easter), hand made by ourselves, in order to fundraise for the WIZO structures in Israel and other charity funds.
Manuela Fano: We also do some traditional Venetian sweets for Hannukah: the frittelle (fritters). They are like the ones that are made for Venetian Carnevale, but we eat them for Hannukah because the cooking of food in oil is part of the Hanukkah tradition. Frying food such as these fritters in oil signifies the miracle of the Menorah. During Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, the Jewish people celebrate their freedom from Greek rule when miraculously they were able to light the menorah in the temple, in order to reconsecrate a deconsecrated temple, for eight nights using a supply of only one night of oil.How do you think we could help to preserve the Jewish culture and presence in the Ghetto?
Manuela Fano: This is a prerogative of our Community and our Institutions, like to maintain the Casa di Riposo Israelitica and Melograno Guest House, that is the one and only kosher guest house in all of Venice. It hosts not only Jewish guests — anyone is welcome. It follows all of the kosher rules. It is managed by the Jewish Venetian Community to preserve our culture. A group of volunteers prepares the the Venetian typical sweets for Pesach (Easter) in a oven that that is exclusively used for this reason, in order to keep such Venetian Jewish tradition alive. What you could do is to let other people know our history, traditions, the interesting pieces preserved at our Museum, our artistic synagogues and our Library/Archive.
Anna Campos: It would be great to find a way to increase the work opportunities for younger generations in Venice, limiting their exodus to foreign countries. Unfortunately this is a general phenomenon that affects both Venetian and Italian populations, and of course the Jewish community is affected too. Some of them have found work at the Jewish Museum and at the Melograno Guest House, which opened right under the Casa Israelitica di Riposo.
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