Commemoration Thoughts

Oops! I meant to post this blog last week, on March 29, the anniversary of Venice’s Ghetto. I was traveling and blogging by phone, and unfortunately I didn’t actually post like I thought I had! Sorry for the late posting.

With the 500th anniversary being marked today for Venice’s Ghetto, I decided to gather thoughts from friends. Plenty of other people are sharing the Ghetto’s history today, but I wanted instead to learn what its existence means to us as individuals, as a society, or as humans. With that in mind, I started with this quote by Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize winner and survivor of concentration camps:

“Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”

So why is commemorating this day important? What place does this ghetto, or all ghettos, have in our memories? How do our memories of past events, such as the creation of Venice’s ghetto, affect our future?


Thoughts from Marco:

“Well with Ted Cruz, after the the Brussels attack, making the statement of wanting to establish Muslim “Patrols” in their communities echoes Ghetto history on so many levels that it’s disturbing. Even the Jewish community comments that “Never Again” is meant for every one who is oppressed – including Muslims – was an amazing stance for them to take.

That said, I have been thinking about what Ghetto means to me… Hypocritical corralling and oppression of a group that may be beneficial to the powers that be but would rather not embrace them for their contribution.”


From Bob (paraphrased from our conversation):

Despite all the obvious negatives related to Jewish ghettos, they did have the effect of preserving Jewish culture by concentrating people in one neighborhood.


I then shared this thought with another friend who replied:

“You told me that someone told you there were some positive effects emanating from Ghetto culture. That is probably true. Minorities feel appreciated and supported by others of the same ethnicity who live in their neighborhoods. Thus Jews created a rich literature and culture emanating from enforced separateness. Judaism is therefore a culture and peoplehood as well as a religion because Jews were shunned. The Harlem Renaissance developed a culture produced by talented blacks in that area of NYC partially because blacks were ghettoized in the 30’s and 40’s. Examples proliferate throughout history.

Nevertheless ghettos, in my view, produce many of society’s greatest problems. When I was a child, I lived in a Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh, PA, not because my family was legally compelled to but certainly because they felt socially compelled to.This area had many comfortable and in some cases, lavish homes (and here and there there were a few non-Jews, even in one case, a Mellon). But the Jewish and non-Jewish communities in the city seldom mingled, even though these Jews were not particularly observant and completely assimilated. Jewish girls dated Jewish boys, and non-Jews dated and were close to non-Jews who belonged to their churches and clubs. I experienced overt and subtle forms of anti-semitism all during my childhood. One 5 year old child called me “a dirty Jew” and when my eldest brother went to medical school (which had a Jewish quota) in Pittsburgh, one student honestly confessed to him that he had never known another Jew and literally thought all Jews had horns. So in some ways, others were as ghettoized as Jews because these groups never knew each other intimately and believed the myths that they were raised on.

I was always struck by the fact that when Israel was founded, one “democratic” principle the founders adhered to was to allow Arab schools to teach children in Arabic. Thus Jewish Israeli children and Arab Israeli children have learned in different languages. If both groups had studied in both Hebrew and Arabic, that would have been a plus, but as it was and is, these groups do not speak the same language and are thus taught “separately” from the beginning.

I have heard that there are similar practices in England. And ghettoization in Belgium helps to separate immigrants from other Belgians.

So we all understand the value of preserving ethnic rituals and practices, but peace and understanding seem to flourish when people are assimilated rather than ghettoized.”


These are only a very few voices. What are your thoughts? Please share your comments on the quote, this anniversary, the existence of ghettos, or wherever your thoughts take you on this day.


(These photos were shared by my friend Marco Zecchin. This one showing the tattered posters on the wall of the campo seems to encapsulate the old and new–old place, new traditions–and also a sense of melding, desecration, or synthesis.) 

About seductivevenice

Teacher, writer, traveler, dancer, reader, photographer, gardener.
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6 Responses to Commemoration Thoughts

  1. A very thoughtful and thought-provoking post . . . especially in the present political climate!

    • Thank you! To be honest, I was a bit nervous about posting something like this in this political climate, but that’s not a good enough reason to be silent! I hope this post can spur more dialogue.

  2. BarK says:

    Great post. Having been raised in a mixed-religion family -away from any sort of ghetto- I have encountered all sorts of reactions from all sides. Yet it’s funny how when I was born (mid 70s) religion seemed less of an issue than it is now.

  3. Nancy Schwalen says:

    And I remember a time when people were afraid of what might happen if a Catholic president were elected. It is important to keeps these stories alive so we don’t become complacent.

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