Jews of world's first ghetto reflect on Europe's migrant crisis

Thu Mar 24, 2016 12:29pm EDT
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By Philip Pullella and Alessandro Bianchi

VENICE (Reuters) - The Jews of the world's first ghetto, which marks its 500th anniversary this month, have two words of advice for Europe as it struggles to deal with mass migration: patience and integration.

More than a million people, mostly Muslims, streamed into Europe last year from the Middle East and Africa. Neither they nor their new hosts might immediately think the centuries-old experiences of another religious minority could help them now.

But the Jews of Venice think the history of their people in general and in Italy in particular is relevant today. "We Jews, unfortunately, know a lot about exoduses," said Edoardo Gesua Sive Salvadori, 64, researching his ancestors in the library of the city's famous ghetto.

University professor Shaul Bassi said Venice's rulers originally established the ghetto because they believed his people could not be integrated and had to be kept apart.

"Today, Italian Jews are proof that a minority can keep its identity and still integrate in a process of reciprocal influence," said Bassi, who is Jewish.

Today's Italian Jewish community of about 25,000 is among the world's most integrated. But the memory of what can happen - such as the Nazi occupation, when Venice saw some 250 of its Jews deported to death camps and only 8 returned - is ever present.

It was on March 29, 1516 that the leader of the Venetian Republic, Doge Leonardo Loredan, and his senate decreed that if Jews wanted to stay in Venice, they had to live on a small island surrounded by canals.

The area was called "geto," from the verb "gettare" (to cast) because it was the site of an old foundry. Globally, this became "ghetto", with its infamous connotations through the centuries.   Continued...

A Jewish man leans against a wall in the Venice ghetto, northern Italy, March 21, 2016. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi