On March 29th, 2016, Venice will “celebrate” or mark the 500th anniversary since the establishment of the Jewish Ghetto of Venice, where Jews were forced to live and be locked up in 1516.

Events will be held throughout the year. The opening ceremony will feature a concert at the Fenice Opera featuring Mahler’s Symphony 1, conducted by Israeli Omer Meir Wellber. Why Mahler? Maybe because he was a Jewish composer who converted to Christianity in Vienna during his career? Why Symphony Number 1? Maybe because movement number 3 has hints of klezmer and Jewish music, which can be interpreted as the conflict between Christians and Jews in Europe; and movement 1 has hints of Beethoven, which contained hopes for a new world.

Free tickets for the concert can be reserved HERE. Historian Simon Schama will deliver a keynote address. The program is organized by the UCEi (Union of Italian Jewish Communities) and with the support of the World Jewish Congress and of the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage (AEPJ).

The idea of the GHETTO derives from the Jewish ghetto of Venice. Created by Venice’s rulers in 1516 on the site of a metal foundry, the area was named for getar, a word in the Venetian dialect meaning “to smelt.” For three centuries, the 5,000 Venetian Jews were segregated. Plus the Jews had to pay the costs of the discrimination: they had to pay fees to support the cost of locking them up. From Midnight to 5 AM they were locked up and the area was patrolled to prevent their escape. Jews – who were forced to wear yellow hats – could only work as money lenders, physicians, and sellers of apparel (fashion apparel excluded). The gates to the ghetto were destroyed by Napoleon in 1797, two decades after the American Revolution, when he occupied Venice. He allowed Jews to live wherever they pleased.

There will also be a performance of The Merchant of Venice. Reg E. Cathey playing Antonio, will be staged in the main square. Hurray. I guess to remind everyone that does not a Jew bleed? WHile Shakespeare probably did not know Jews or Jewish money lenders, England’s King Henry VIII contacted Venetian Jews to search for Old Testament precedents to justify his divorce of Catherine of Aragon.

Other events include:

May 5-6, 2016: Venice at the Doge’s Palace): “?…li giudei debbano abitar unidi…”? The Birth and Evolution of the Venetian Ghetto (1516­-1797) – An international conference organized by the Medici Archive Project, Beit Venezia, and the Committee for the 500 Years of the Jewish Ghetto of Venice.

June 19 – November, 2016: “Venice, the Jews and Europe. 1516–2016” – an exhibit for the Quincentennial year of the Jewish Ghetto. Organized in collaboration with MUVE foundation of Venice in the prestigious venue of the Doge’s Palace, it will be a visible and symbolic event to mark this historic anniversary. The exhibition, curated by Donatella Calabi, leading expert on the urban history of the Jewish Ghetto of Venice, aims at underscoring the wealth of relationships between the Jews and civic society throughout the history of their long residence ?in the lagoon, in the Veneto, and in Europe and ?the Mediterranean. It will recount the story of the Ghetto’s settlement, its growth, its architecture, ?its society, its trades, its daily life, and the relationships between the Jewish minority and the city at large, within the context of its relationships with other Jewish settlements in Europe and the Mediterranean basin. A virtual reconstruction of the Ghetto in its various historical phases will make it possible to trace the neighborhood’s development.

June 28th-July 5th. 2016; The Ghetto of Venice: The Future of Memory in a Digital Age, a Summer Workshop for early career scholars on liminal spaces and Jewish Identity, supported by the Delmas Foundation.

July 28, 2016: Venice at the Marciana National Library, a symposium on “Venice and the Hebrew Book”. In collaboration with Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana and National Library of Israel.

September 13-14 2016: Gli ebrei, Venezia e l’Europa tra ‘800 e ‘900 (Jews, Venice and Europe between the 19th and 20th centuries). A Conference. Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere e Arti. (Donatella Calabi).

One day TBD in December, 2016: La musica ebraica dell’800 (Jewish Music in the 19th century) Fondazione Ugo e Olga Levi (Luisa Zanoncelli and Piergabriele Mancuso)


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  • prof premraj pushpakaran writes—2016 marked 500 years since the establishment of the Jewish Ghetto of Venice