Italian Word of the Week – GHETTO

italicsBy Daniela Gross

The word “ghetto” is so familiar for an Italian Jew. Since your childhood you know what the ghetto is, where it is and often you grow up playing in the maze of its narrow streets. The term is related to the Ghetto of Venice, the first one instituted in Europe in 1516. From there, the word spread through the continent indicating the area where the Jews had to live, restricted by law, separated from the rest of population.
The ghettos were abolished during the XIX century, also following the ideals of the French Revolution, and the last ghetto to be suppressed in Western Europe was that of Rome, in 1870, when the city was annexed to Reign of Italy. Now, while the 500 years of the Venetian Ghetto are approaching (the celebration for the anniversary, next year, already began) historians reflect on what that period really meant in the Jewish history. But in the everyday life of Italian Jews, Ghetto has definitely lost the meaning of separation and mostly is no longer the place where Jews live.
That ancient district is now one of the poles of the Jewish Community life, even if the synagogues built after the Emancipation stand outside its walls. It is a familiar place, which testifies the glorious and troubled history of the Italian Jews. It hosts events, shops, restaurants, has a strong appeal on the tourists (especially in Venice and in Rome) and, with its atmosphere, its old fascinating houses and its central location, it is often an amazing place to inhabit. As for me, I dream of living in those magnificent palaces in Portico d’Ottavia, in the Ghetto of Rome: one of the most beautiful places in the Eternal City.