NEWS From the Venice Ghetto, a Lesson about the Fight for Freedom

veniceBy Adam Smulevich

A day marked by strong emotions in Venice inaugurated the initiatives for the 500th anniversary of the first ghetto in Europe.
Followed with interest all over the world, the March 29 events represented the beginning of a series of initiatives which have been planned to reflect on the themes of exclusion, rights denied, freedom lost and conquered again. The underlying idea is to look at the history of the past, in order to draw great lessons for the present and future.

“This anniversary is not a celebration, because imprisonment is not to be celebrated. However, this is a unique opportunity for knowledge,” the President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities Renzo Gattegna said. He was welcoming, together with the president of the Jewish Community of Venice Paolo Gnignati, the president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies Laura Boldrini. They came together to visit the Ghetto, the Jewish Museum, and the astonishing synagogues of the quarter.

Hundreds of people also joined the Ateneo Veneto, one of the most prestigious cultural sites in the city, where scholar Donatella Calabi presented her book, “Venezia e il Ghetto.” This valuable and highly qualified study is the basis of a great exhibition (“Venezia, gli ebrei e l’Europa. 1516-2016”), curated by Calabi herself, who will be hosted in the Palazzo Ducale in June.

Finally, the inaugural night took place at La Fenice theatre. It included a performance of Gustav Mahler’s “Symphony No. 1 in D major” conducted by Israeli conductor Omer Meir Wellber and a brilliant lectio magistralis by British historian Simon Schama.

“History is not always a trip down memory lane. Sometimes an event we think we had left behind in a particular period or in a particular moment crashes into our present at a great risk. At that moment you find yourself in an urgent and inevitable reflection on what it means to share or not share the urban space: to live together or live separately there?” Schama said in his memorable address to the public of La Fenice.

Among the speakers that evening were the president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder and the mayor of Venice Luigi Brugnaro.

“May this anniversary represent an occasion to ponder the value of liberty and respect towards people and peoples, an ever-lasting warning against repeating the same, tragic mistakes of the past, and to act so that the experience of segregation and persecution suffered by the Jewish people does not happen again. The very history of Venice, the crossroads of cultures and a cradle of encounters, teaches us to value and protect the mosaic of experiences that made our city illustrious,” Brugnaro said.