David Laskin, author most recently of The Family: A Journey into the Heart of the 20th Century and The Children's Blizzard, will discuss the history of the Jewish ghetto in Venice and consider how the city's Jewish community has evolved and developed over the past half millennium. Even American travelers who visit the ghetto's museums and synagogues have little sense of the small, deeply rooted and fiercely proud community that continues to gather in this corner of the city to worship and preserve their history. The talk will touch on some of the prominent individuals Mr. Laskin met with during his trip to Venice last winter and speculate on the future of the city's Jewish community.
This event is part of the series La Serenissima (February 3-21,2017), a Music and Arts Festival, organized by Carnegie Hall, in collaboration with the Library of Congress, The Jewish Museum, the Embassy of Italy and the Italian Cultural Institute in Washington, DC, the Italian Cultural Institute in New York, Centro Primo Levi, and NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò.
Venice’s Jewish ghetto – a former foundry in the northwest quadrant of the island city – was the first place in Europe where people were forcibly confined and surveilled because of religious difference. Established by decree of Doge Leonardo Loredan on March 29, 1516, the ghetto was undeniably a prison (locked and guarded at night); but paradoxically, confinement also provided an opportunity for cultural exchange unparalleled in the Diaspora. Jews from both Europe and the Ottoman Empire flocked to Venice’s ghetto, each group establishing its own tiny enclave and synagogue. When the ghetto was at its height in the 17th century, five thousand Jews lived crammed into 5,000 square meters of alleys and courtyards. Venice became the center of European Jewish publishing and a hub for Jewish scholars and writers.
By the outbreak of the Second World War, Jewish Venice had shrunk to 1,200 residents, 250 of whom were murdered in Nazi concentration camps. Today, there are about 450Venetian Jews left, only a handful of them living in the ghetto. Nonetheless, the ghetto remains the anchor and the spiritual heart of Jewish Venice. By a miracle of preservation, five of the ghetto’s gemlike synagogues remain intact. And as a result of the surge of interest in the ghetto following the 500th anniversary last year, a major project has been launched to restore the Jewish Museum of Venice and knit three of the synagogues more seamlessly into its fabric.
Embassy of Italy - Auditorium
3000 Whitehaven Street NW
Washington, DC 20008
DOORS OPEN AT 6:30PM AND CLOSE AT 6:55PM
PLEASE NOTE: RESERVATIONS ACCEPTED EXCLUSIVELY THROUGH EVENTBRITE. NO PHONE OR EMAIL RSVP AVAILABLE. THANK YOU FOR YOUR UNDERSTANDING.
David Laskin is an author, journalist, public speaker, and inveterate traveler. Laskin’s recent books are non-fiction narratives about ordinary people caught up in the events of history, be it war, genocide, mass migration or catastrophic weather. His latest book The Family: A Journey into the Heart of the 20th Century (Penguin paperback), which traces the three branches of his mother’s family, won the Washington State Book Award, as did his previous book The Long Way Home: From Ellis Island to the Great War (Harper Perennial), about the immigrant experience in the First World War.
Laskin has traveled repeatedly to Italy to research articles for the New York Times. In addition to the Venice ghetto, he has written about Rome during the Nazi occupation, Iris Origo’s estate “La Foce” in Tuscany, and the treasures of Urbino in Le Marche. A piece about historic Italian libraries will be published later this year. Laskin speaks and reads Italian.
Laskin and his wife, retired law professor Kate O’Neill, live in Seattle, Washington, where they raised three daughters, now grown and embarked on their own lives.