Ethnic rivalries and synagogues
The Ghetto may have been populated by Jews, but it wasn't a melting pot. Residents came from a variety of countries, cultures, and social classes, making clashes (or at least open hostility) inevitable. This was most obvious in the building of synagogues, which eventually numbered five: one each for the German, Italian, Spanish, and Levantine communities, and a fifth--the Scuola Canton--which may have been French, or may have created as a private synagogue for the families who undewrote its building expenses. (All five synagogues remain. Three may be visited on a public tour, and two others--both in the Ghetto Vecchio--are used for religious services on an alternating summer and winter schedule.)
Freed by Napoleon, persecuted by Hitler
As Venice went into economic and political decline in the 1700s, the Ghetto sank with it and was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1737. Sixty years later, Napoleon's troops brought an end to the Republic of Venice. The Ghetto's gates were torn down, and Jews were given the same freedoms as other citizens of Venice. Many Jews chose to continue living in the Ghetto, however, and the Ghetto remained a focal point for the Venetian Jewish community until the German occupation during World War II, when some 200 Jews were deported and killed between 1943 and 1945.
Rebirth of the Ghetto
The Jewish community in Venice has experienced a modest rebirth in recent years. About 500 Jews live in Venice, although the Ghetto itself has only about 30 Jewish residents. Religious services take place in either the Scuola Grande Spagnola or the Scuola Levantina. The neighborhood has several Jewish shops, a book publisher, a social center, a rest home for the elderly, a museum, a yeshiva, and the kosher Gam Gam restaurant (run by Lubavicher Jews whose rabbi came to Venice after 20 years in Bologna).
Tours of the Ghetto are available year-round at the Museo Ebraico (Jewish Museum) in the Campo Ghetto Nuovo, which has a large collection of religious objects and silverware. The tour has several morning and afternoon departures and lasts about 40 minutes. The price is a bit steep, but the three synagogues included in the tour are worth visiting if you're even remotely interested in Venetian history or Jewish culture. (You can also buy a combined ticket for the tour and the museum.)
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