The Quest to Renovate the World’s Oldest Ghetto

April 26 2022

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


Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria