Friday, March 18, 2016

In the Ghetto

And look the other way
Well the world turns
And a hungry little boy with a runny nose
Plays in the street as the cold wind blows
In the ghetto
(In the ghetto)

Yup, that's Elvis you can hear crooning in the background. In the Ghetto was actually one of his more interesting songs lyrically, a comeback hit in 1969 written by Mac Davis. It explores the grim realities of racial ghettoes in a time of social ferment in the United States.

Did you know that the term ghetto goes back 500 years and it is related to the segregation of Jews --essentially imprisonment -- in the Italian city of Venice? As was so often the case in Medieval Europe, the Jews of Venice were essential and prosperous citizens of the community. That changed in March of 1516.

Established by decree of Doge Leonardo Loredan on March 29, 1516, the Venice ghetto was one of the first places where people were forcibly segregated and surveilled because of religious difference. The term itself originated here; the area had been used as a foundry (“geto” in Venice dialect) and over time the neighborhood’s polyglot residents corrupted the word to ghetto.

It was Napoleon Bonaparte who tore down the gates of this ghetto in 1797, nearly three centuries later.  Read this New York Times article about the anniversary to learn more.

This is yet another reminder of the persecution of Jews through the centuries, essentially for being Jews. Many societies and regimes  have envied and hated Jewish success, and while the biggest threat Jews posed was strengthening economies and enhancing culture, this has led to segregation and violence. The darkest example was the extermination of six million Jews under the Nazi regime.

As we are about to enter Holy Week we need to remember that this was a traditional time to persecute Jews as those responsible for Jesus' death, even though the Romans executed him. This hatred was often incited by pastors and priests through inflammatory sermons. If you think this couldn't happen today, recently a group of students from a Catholic school in the States chanted "you killed Jesus" toward the team and its followers from a Jewish neighbourhood. This was quickly censured, but it reminds us that anti-Semitism still exists.

Did you know about the origins of the ghetto? Have you been aware of anti-Semitism in your lifetime? Have you been involved in inter-faith events to deepen understanding between Jews and Christians?

1 comment:

Frank said...

We actually had an opportunity of visiting the ghetto during a stop over in Venice during a cruise. It is confined and, architecturally, they had to build upward. There also are depictions of the transportations during WWII when Jews (who continued to live in this area) were rounded up and shipped off to the death camps. It was all quite moving. They also had a Jewish museum to display the history with artifacts.