The Quest to Renovate the World’s Oldest Ghetto

In 1516, the Venetian Senate declared that the city’s Jews could only live in a small area, and had it surrounded by a wall and gate to enforce the regulation. The neighborhood, known as the ghetto, soon gave its name to similar restricted Jewish areas in cites throughout Italy and Germany. Even after its walls were torn down in the late 18th century, it remained the center of Jewish life. Today, about 50 of Venice’s 450 Jews live there. Orge Castellano describes efforts to preserve it:

The buildings [in the ghetto], which were wedged too closely together from the start, needed a long-overdue renovation to stay standing, especially as the city’s water levels continue to rise due to climate change. In 2014, looking forward to the 500th anniversary of the ghetto’s creation in 2016, a group of philanthropists called the Venetian Heritage Council, led by the famed Jewish fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg, announced a $12 million project to restore the ghetto. But the project fell through when the group couldn’t raise enough funds to begin the restoration.

Architecturally, the most important features of the ghetto are likely its synagogues:

Hidden within ordinary-looking buildings in the square sit La Scola Spagnola (Spanish Synagogue), and La Scola Levantina (Levantine Synagogue), the last synagogues built in the quarter, in 1541 and 1580, respectively. Coming from various regions of Europe, each Jewish group sought to retain its own traditions and community spirit inside the ghetto. By 1571, there were five synagogues, each dedicated to a distinct ethnic group.

The Spanish Synagogue is the only [one] that has been continuously used since its founding. Said to be designed by the famous Venetian Baroque architect Baldassare Longhena, the temple resembles the style of many contemporary Venetian monuments and palazzos. Carved wooden doors inscribed with Psalm verses welcome congregants. The bimah, or prayer podium, features marble columns, and the floor is made up of white and gray marble tiles, arranged in a concentric square pattern.

The Schola Levantina, rebuilt in 1680, is an elegant building also attributed to Longhena. Dark wooden panels clad the square-plan prayer room, and the 18th-century bimah stands in a raised polygonal apse, covered by a domed skylight. Of the remaining three temples in the ghetto, La Scola Grande Tedesca (German Synagogue), erected by Ashkenazi Jews in 1528, is the oldest.

The Spanish Synagogue was founded by Sephardim who came more or less directly from Spain; whereas the “Levantine” Jews had left Spain for the Ottoman empire, and from there migrated to Italy.

Read more at JTA

More about: Ghetto, Italian Jewry, Jewish architecture, Sephardim, Synagogues, Venice

How to Turn Palestinian Public Opinion Away from Terror

The Palestinian human-rights activist Bassem Eid, responding to the latest survey results of the Palestinian public, writes:

Not coincidentally, support for Hamas is much higher in the West Bank—misgoverned by Hamas’s archrivals, the secular nationalist Fatah, which rules the Palestinian Authority (PA)—than in Gaza, whose population is being actively brutalized by Hamas. Popular support for violence persists despite the devastating impact that following radical leaders and ideologies has historically had on the Palestinian people, as poignantly summed up by Israel’s Abba Eban when he quipped that Arabs, including the Palestinians, “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Just as worrying is the role of propaganda and misinformation, which are not unique to the Palestinian context but are pernicious there due to the high stakes involved. Misinformation campaigns, often fueled by Hamas and its allies, have painted violent terrorism as the only path to dignity and rights for Palestinians. Palestinian schoolbooks and public media are rife with anti-Semitic and jihadist content. Hamas’s allies in the West have matched Hamas’s genocidal rhetoric with an equally exterminationist call for the de-normalization and destruction of Israel.

It’s crucial to consider successful examples of de-radicalization from other regional contexts. After September 11, 2001, Saudi Arabia implemented a comprehensive de-radicalization program aimed at rehabilitating extremists through education, psychological intervention, and social reintegration. This program has had successes and offers valuable lessons that could be adapted to the Palestinian context.

Rather than pressure Israel to make concessions, Eid argues, the international community should be pressuring Palestinian leaders—including Fatah—to remove incitement from curricula and stop providing financial rewards to terrorists.

Read more at Newsweek

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Palestinian public opinion