Day 7 started with a humble request to Shira: please navigate us to the Jewish Ghetto. By consulting three maps she was able to get us to the correct location without even a hint of getting us lost. She's good.
The Jewish Ghetto is small - about 2 large city blocks. At one point it contained around 4,000 Jews. They lived there not by choice, but by strict law that controlled their comings and goings. According to our tour guide, there's now about 400 Jews in the whole of Venice and it's surrounding environs, and there are many more funerals per year than brises.
With that many Jews in close proximity it's no surprise that they had to have a number of shuls, I believe the total number came out to 5. We had a chance to tour 3 of them. The shuls we were in date back to the 1500 or 1600's, and as the tour guide kept reminding us, everything we see there is original. In some respects the shuls look exactly like you would expect an Orthodox shul to look like: an ark for the torah, a reading desk, various inscriptions in Hebrew, a ladies section, etc. But in other respects, they are totally foreign. Jews at the time were forbidden to be craftsmen, yet had money to hire the best. So the architects and designers of the shuls weren't Jewish. That explains why one of them has gorgeous greek colums and the ark looks it could pass for the front of a church.
While the shuls have been in continous use (even to this day, they get a few uses every year), many of the reasons behind the symbols on display have been lost. Consider the case of large sea shell above the doorway in one of the shuls. What is this non-kosher item doing there? Does it represent the wash basin used by the Levi'm, or was it simply an in-vogue symbol of the time, so the architect put it in place? Nobody knows. But being Jews, we have no problem coming up with a handful of explanations, and using the one we prefer the best.
After the museum, we went in search of Kosher food for lunch. We found an especially nice place, and we ate lunch only a few feet from the edge of one of the canals. It was like out a movie.
While we ordered a number of standard dishes (hummos, kabobs, etc.), I couldn't resist ordering the classic Venetian dish of sardines and onions. It arrived, and looked exactly like its contents suggested it would: a heaping pile of onions over sardines mixed with some oil based sauce. It was absolutely delicious, with a sweet flavor. By far the best sardine related dish I've ever had. If you make it to Venice, I highly recommend you search out a restaurant that offers this treat.
From there, we explored more random parts of the city until it was time to head to the train station. After a 45 minute delay we boarded our overnight train to Paris, which is where I'm typing this from now.
I'm so thankful that I was able to make it to see and experience Venice. It suffers from the usual woes any popular city has: too many tourists, too many souvenir shops and too many people out to make a quick buck off of an unsusupecting tourist. But, the beauty and sheer wonderment of a city with canals instead of streets makes it all worth it. Throw in a dose of Jewish history, and the glass making on Murano, and you have a city that more than compensates for any detractors.
But enough about Venice, it's back to Paris and the French Open!!