I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute—and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.
Five long years he haunted me in my dreams. Not Shylock, but his creator Shakespeare. Little did I know, after 13 years I would trace back Shylock to his quarters.
New age Jewish Ghetto
Tucked away in a corner is a campo rich in ancient history and speaking volumes about its culture and heritage. To me its THE VENICE, that the world doesn’t know. There is florid architecture to boast about, narrow alleyways and innumerable canals labyrinthine through the city. A huge square, laundry hung out to dry, rabbi’s chit chatting while the children wearing kippah loiter in the jewish grounds. A handful of tourists and countable police patrolling the sprawling square. Celebrating life’s monotony.
Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice
Behind the cracked exteriors lies a melting pot of Jewish culture, thriving and reinventing itself. During the medieval era, Rialto had been the trade hub of the world. Attracting buyers and sellers from all around the world at the central eating point and the water playing as the key to all its trade doors. Jewish people were the money lenders who helped sponsor the ship cargoes and that would again ring a bell for all those who read “Merchant of Venice” where Antonio who is broke decides to pawn a pound of his flesh to the vengeful Jewish Money lender Shylock. Rings a bell now, huh
Early Settlement of Jews
There had always been a tiff between the christian vatican court of Venice and the Jewish Traders. Though rich they were always persecuted and humiliated by their christian counterparts. The above verse By Shakespeare , underlines the chemistry.
It is quite surprising to know that Jewish community was not able to get a residential permit until the early 14th century. The prominence came in later and was more need driven. In the year 1385 Jewish people were allowed to reside in Venice as they provided the money to the war stricken Venice.
But the racism was quite immense until the late 15th century where the Venice court cornered their residential to a small area where now the Ghetto thrives. The Jewish boundaries were set and gates were kept locked at the night.Their economic activities were restricted to money lending, medicines, textile and pawn shops. They could leave the ghetto only during the day, they were physically distinguished in their appearance by the men wearing a small skull-cap and the women wearing a scarf.
The Jews of Venice are an amalgamated mix of Levantines, Ashkenazi, Italian and Spanish Jews who have lived together through the deadly plague of 1630 and finally in the late 16th century Napoleon banned all restrictions on the Jewish community and granted equal rights to the Jewish community.
Though shortly after that many of Venice’s Jews fled before the Nazi occupation followed, but 246 were arrested and sent to the camps between 1943 and 1944; only eight survived. A memorialconsisting of harrowing bas-reliefs and the names and ages of those killed now lines two walls facing Campo del Ghetto Nuovo.
Tourist in you
To pay homage to this rich and thriving culture of the ghetto, you could book guided tours starting at the Jewish museum. It would cover the contrasting mundane lifestyle and introduce you to the ornate and opulent synagogues (known as Scolas in the venetian dialect).
- Entrance to the museum and guided tours to synagogues €10 adults, €8 concessions, museoebraico.it
Or you could be a wanderer like me with a camera in her hand, slowly meandering through the alleys. Observing life and seeping in the elements of culture through one’s perception. s far the foodie in me goes, it definitely made a stop over at the local kosher to grab a quick meal and satiate my taste buds.
Places to eat
Gam Gam Kosher : It has a pleasant terrace by the Cannaregio canal. The lunchtime meze menu is good and cheap.
Ristorante Ghimel Garden : Right on the Ghetto courtyard serves up vegetarian fare with an Italian-Jewish twist, and its airy, sunlit courtyard has made it a popular lunch spot.
Please note : The facts about the Jewish Evolution are as quoted from the Wall street journal article on the Jewish Ghetto.