All posts for the month May, 2014

Jewish Synagogues and Communities of the Adriatic

Published 29/05/2014 by damselwithadulcimer

As I dig deeper into my family history I find myself becoming more and more interested in Jewish history throughout its existence.  My ancestors came to England from Poland, Lithuania and Belarus, whilst my husband’s parents arrived here more recently from Hungary (as Holocaust survivors) and Russian Georgia.  My attachment to my antecedents, both familial and Jewish people in general, urges me to visit synagogues in other countries whenever I get the chance.  Not so much from a religious curiosity, but from a desire to learn about the Jews who lived in these places, and to mourn the passing of those who perished for their religious faith.

On a recent Adriatic cruise I had multiple opportunities to find out a little more about various Jewish communities, including those in Corfu, Split and Dubrovnik, finishing with the city which gave the world the word ‘Ghetto’ – Venice.

Romaniotes were the first Jewish inhabitants of Greece and her islands and their presence dates back 2000 years, although they differ from the Sephardi Jews who arrived from Spain and Portugal after 1492.  These immigrants from the Iberian Peninsula were later joined by Italian Jews from Apulia on Italy’s Adriatic coast.

In 1622 Corfu’s Venetian rulers decreed that the Jews relocate to an area sandwiched between Porta Reale and Porta di Spilia, subsequently known as ‘Evraiki’, the name by which it is still known.  Of the three synagogues in this area, two were destroyed by bombing in 1944, leaving the nineteenth-century building on Velissariou Street.  The same year the Gestapo rounded up the Jewish population of 1900 (200 of whom escaped and were sheltered by fellow Greeks) and sent them to Auschwitz-Birkenau to be gassed. They are commemorated on a plaque in the building.


The current Jewish population of Corfu now numbers approximately 65 people. The Corfu synagogue was attacked by arsonists three years ago, but no evidence of this vandalism remains today.


I was particularly impressed by the unusual stained glass windows.


Split (in Croatia) has been home to a Jewish presence since the third century when Jews settled in Salona, just outside of the modern city.  Four hundred years later when the city was conquered by the Avars they moved to Split where they sought refuge in Diocletian’s palace, attaching a synagogue to its western wall in the sixteenth century.  A Jewish ghetto was later created on the other side of the city where a new synagogue was built in Zidovski Prolaz (the Jewish Passage).  The pre-Sephardim were also joined by Sephardi Jews fleeing from the Spanish Inquisition towards the end of the fifteenth century.


From 1941 Croatia was ruled by Italian Fascists, who were supplanted in 1943 by until the arrival of the Nazis and the Croatian Ustashe.  The latter transported Jews to their own concentration camps, where approximately seventy-five percent of Croatian Jews perished.  The synagogue also has its own memorial to those who never returned after WW2.


Along the Dalmatian coast and within the old walled city of Dubrovnik, the synagogue boasts of being the oldest Sephardic synagogue in use and the second oldest synagogue in Europe – its older relation can be found in Prague.


The prayer house is situated on the upper floor of a medieval house at Zudioska 5 and sits above a small museum, itself a poignant reminder of the fate of Dubrovnik’s Jewish community, and of the yellow stars they were forced to wear that identified them and their religion.


On 29 March 1516 the Venetian Republic created the first Ghetto in Europe.  Jews were confined between sunset and sunrise until Napoleon unlocked the gates permanently in 1797.  Twenty-first century visitors to la Serenessima can now visit the Jewish Museum (opened in 1955) throughout the day at Campo del Ghetto Nuovo 2902b .  The museum is the starting point of the ghetto tour and will take you to four synagogues in the area.


The Schola Levantina was the first to be built in 1538; the Schola Canton and the Schola Tedesca are both housed in the same building as the museum; the Schola Italiana (built in 1575) can also be found on Ghetto Square and the remaining synagogue, the Schola Spagnola is the largest of the five, built in the sixteenth century.  Unfortunately photography is prohibited, but you will be able to find images online.  For this reason I can’t quite remember which building was which, but do recall that they have all been refurbished, generally in the eighteenth century in baroque style. Of the two synagogues in general use one is used in the summer as it is cooler, and the other is used in the winter, for the opposite reason.  Again I forget which is which, but this is a view of the outside of the Schola Spagnola – the Spanish Synagogue.


Further information can be found on the Ghetto Ebraico di Venezia website:  A strange fact of the Cannaregio (the ghetto area) is that the old ghetto (Ghetto Vecchio) is newer than the new ghetto (Ghetto Novo).  I forgot to ask why.  This is the bridge separating the two districts.  I apologise for the ubiquitous tourist who always manages to get in the way.


The city commemorates both those Venetians who lost their lives fighting for Italy


as well as the 6 million victims of the Holocaust.


If you are a religious Jew and find yourself in Venice on Shabbat or during a religious festival, the area is surrounded by an Eruv for carrying items and pushing wheelchairs and pushchairs, and if you are strictly observant you will also be able to find kosher food, but obviously not on Saturdays and festivals.

I would be happy to hear from others who have visited these places of Jewish history and interest and learn of their thoughts. Please excuse any shortcomings in the above.  It is all written from memory from a little over a month ago and no notes were taken.

My Demented Mother

Published 15/05/2014 by damselwithadulcimer

Once my mother had a firm diagnosis of vascular dementia, my sister and I decided it was time to tell her remaining friends and family.  Of course the first reaction we generally received was ‘Does she know you?’.  To be honest I didn’t know much about the various types of dementia so I suppose it is only to be expected that other people don’t really understand it either.  There was also the ‘coincidence’ of meeting other people who were suffering, or caring for sufferers.

Obviously the diagnosis has not changed anything;  I suspected dementia even when Mum was just suffering from Mild Cognitive Impairment.  Like a hovercraft daughter I am ever vigilant and looking out for changes and risks, and risk is definitely the most important factor.  She lives alone in a state that I refer to as ‘dependantly independent’, relying on visits from my sister and me, seeing her carers twice a day, and spending the greater part of her days alone.

We have talked about installing a Granny Cam as we often wonder what goes on in her flat when nobody is there.  Examples are the huge amount of bread that seems to disappear between restocking the freezer.  She is not particularly interested in food and usually opts for the quick fix of bread and butter.  Even when her carers offer her something to eat she responds that she is not hungry, so they just make her another sandwich.  She doesn’t eat her crusts, not because she can’t but probably because it is easier not to. Sometimes I make her a light dish of bacon and eggs, baked beans on toast, or suchlike but she rarely manages to finish the smallest portion.  Everything is usually washed down with cups of artificially sweetened black coffee, a throw back to the days when she used to diet, or glasses of warm fizzy drinks.  Nothing is refrigerated.  If she is offered a choice of what to eat, she always leaves it up to the person preparing the food.  She probably now weighs about 6st and is somewhere between a size 6 and a size 8.

Her time is spent sitting in her armchair and popping back to bed for another sleep.  She often wonders why she feels so tired, to which I reply that she is not getting proper nourishment and has no stimulation.  She has been out of the flat twice so far this year and it is now the middle of May.  Since breaking her hip fourteen months ago she has relied on a Zimmer frame for moving around her home and reluctantly uses her wheelchair for visits to the great outdoors.  Recently my sister and I have been encouraging her to play cards as it passes the time and keeps her brain active, although there are often occasions when she seems to forget the rules.

There are phases when she seems to fall frequently and the Paramedics are summoned to get her back on to her feet, but she always refuses to go to hospital to be checked over.  She still smokes heavily and probably doesn’t even realise that she has just finished one cigarette before starting on the next one.  She doesn’t seem to inhale any longer and just puffs away.  Another worry is that she often fails to extinguish her matches.  The arthritis in her wrists presents problems when it comes to using a lighter and also when it comes to waving out the matches, which are frequently tossed into an ashtray when still alight, or worse still thrown into the waste bin.  She burned one waste basket this way and chucked a lighted match into the bin in front of me recently.  My reactions were fast when I saw a flare of orange, but she appeared to be completely nonplussed.  Her clothes, sheets and rug are also punctuated with burn holes.  She has left food under the grill (luckily an electric one) and gone back to bed.  One of her carers found her recently, fast asleep in bed in a smoke-filled apartment.  The only upshot of this is that I have organised a safety check from a local fireman: practically every woman’s fantasy, and a change from the usual Paramedic in green uniform.

Because Mum is so tired she can’t be bothered to keep in touch with friends and family.  She ignores the phone when it rings, doesn’t check her messages, and never phones anybody.  This is all exacerbated by her failing hearing, which she refuses to correct by wearing her hearing aids.  People think she is annoyed with them, but the truth is that she can’t be bothered to talk to anybody, and indeed has nothing to talk about as she goes nowhere and sees nobody.

The most recent and upsetting change is to her behaviour.  She has begun to get bitchy and often picks on me, criticising my clothes, my shoes, my tights or anything else.  There are good days when everything is fine, but then there are the occasions when we revert back to the old days of little daughter trying to please Mummy and not managing to get it right.  A friend told me that, before her mother’s dementia was diagnosed, she picked arguments with family members.  I just try to remain my old placid self, but it is upsetting when you try your best and are just rewarded with snarky remarks.

It’s all a learning curve and we just have to adapt and adjust as we go along, finding our own coping and helping mechanisms along the way.