THE CITY WITHIN THE CITY

All About Italy (USA) - - Editorial -

The ghetto of Venice has re­cently cel­e­brated its 500th an­niver­sary, and for the oc­ca­sion the Vene­tian Her­itage Foun­da­tion, es­tab­lished to safe­guard the la­goon and its cul­tural pat­ri­mony, has mo­bi­lized to gather funds for the restora­tion of the area and three of its five syn­a­gogues.

In 1516, due to the large in­flux of Jewish refugees com­ing to the la­goon fol­low­ing the Span­ish ri­con­quista, the Vene­tian Se­nate de­cided to con­fine the Jewish com­mu­nity on a small pe­riph­eral is­land in the area of Cannareg­gio where there had pre­vi­ously only been foundries. In this way the first Jewish “ghetto” in the world was born (the name ghetto most likely de­rives from the lo­cal word “getto,” re­fer­ring to the dregs of the foundries), and to­day, many Jewish and gen­tile com­mu­ni­ties have mo­bi­lized to finance a large-scale restora­tion project to pre­serve a piece of his­tory and, above all, mem­ory. The re­al­iza­tion of all of the fore­seen op­er­a­tions en­tails a bud­get of eight mil­lion eu­ros, two mil­lion of which have al­ready ar­rived in the form of dona­tions from a group of bene­fac­tors in the United States: a way of not for­get­ting their own ori­gins and of pro­tect­ing a pat­ri­mony of the great­est im­por­tance for the Jewish di­as­pora as a whole. Dona­tions have come from par­ents on the oc­ca­sion of the tra­di­tional bar mitz­vah of their teenage sons. Hol­ly­wood VIPS have signed checks for the project, and in­volved col­leagues and friends with their en­thu­si­asm. Bar­bra Streisand, for ex­am­ple, hav­ing fallen in love with Venice dur­ing a va­ca­tion, made a do­na­tion and then got her friend Donna Karan to join in. Michael Frost, an Amer­i­can phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal mag­nate, has

also come on board. A large num­ber of men and women have an­swered the call of the foun­da­tion, giv­ing their con­tri­bu­tions to­ward achiev­ing the fi­nan­cial bench­mark. In this ini­tia­tive, the par­tic­i­pa­tion of celebri­ties is in fact as im­por­tant as the num­ber of checks signed and sent, as they pro­vide valu­able pub­lic­ity for the project, ac­cord­ing to Toto Berg­amo Rossi, the di­rec­tor of the Vene­tian foun­da­tion, who was sur­prised by the en­thu­si­asm which greeted an ex­hi­bi­tion of re­li­gious ob­jects from a syn­a­gogue found af­ter 70 years of hid­ing in a ghetto at­tic—most likely left there for safe­keep­ing on the day the neigh­bor­hood Jews were de­ported to con­cen­tra­tion camps. The Vene­tian Her­itage Foun­da­tion, which has its sec­ond head­quar­ters in the United States, has un­der­taken a ver­i­ta­ble doorto-door op­er­a­tion in the Amer­i­can Jewish com­mu­nity. As Berg­amo Rossi says: “We have to fo­cus on trust, and per­son­ally ring­ing the door­bells is the first fun­da­men­tal step.” The fundrais­ing op­er­a­tion is al­ready yield­ing re­sults, es­pe­cially tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the other foun­da­tions that Vene­tian Her­itage in­tends to con­tact shortly. But the amount gath­ered as of now is still not enough. The restora­tion of the five syn­a­gogues and the ren­o­va­tion and en­large­ment of the Jewish Mu­seum will in fact cost around eight mil­lion eu­ros, and it is pos­si­ble that the com­plex project will pro­ceed in stages, on the ba­sis of funds re­ceived. How­ever, they hope for sub­stan­tial help from other fa­mous names yet to be con­tacted, such as Diane von Fürsten­berg and Steven Spiel­berg. Mean­while, $50,000 have ar­rived in one fell swoop from the Berg Foun­da­tion for the in­stal­la­tion of the ex­hi­bi­tion that took place in the Do­ges’ Palace in June, 2016, with the ti­tle “The Jews, Venice, and Europe,” or­ga­nized in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Foun­da­tion of the Civic Museums of Venice. This is an op­por­tu­nity of re­birth for the an­cient ghetto, which is by now a his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural pat­ri­mony that spir­i­tu­ally unites the Jewish com­mu­nity through­out the world, linked to its his­tory and wounded by the bru­tal­ity of fel­low hu­mans.

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Toto Berg­amo Rossi, di­rec­tor of the Vene­tian Her­itage Foun­da­tion and ex­pert in restora­tion

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