This year marks the 500th anniversary of the founding of the Venice Ghetto, but The Chronicle’s article (“Venice welcomes back Shylock in marking its Jewish history,” Aug. 11) is very misleading. The Ghetto was not imposed on the Jews nor were they herded into it. Prior to 1516, Venice had no Jews but allowed Jewish moneylenders to come over from the mainland to do business for limited periods of time. But when the Venetian economy tanked, due to some wars that went bad, they needed the services of Jewish moneylenders.
Suddenly in possession of some leverage, our boys suggested that they could do an even better job if they had a permanent settlement. The Venetians were always eager to give financial matters priority and negotiated that the moneylenders could live in the Ghetto — a word derived from an iron foundry, which had been in that area. They also negotiated the interest rate on loans and told the Jews they would have to abide by certain rules — e.g., wear distinctive hats or badges. The Venetians made similar deals with other non-Roman Catholic trading partners such as the Germans, Turks and Greeks. The terms were re-negotiated every five or 10 years.
In a couple of decades, other waves of Sephardic Jews came to settle, and a second, adjacent “ghetto” was established. The Jewish community had it better in Venice than most places in Europe, and the community was known for its rabbis, scholars, musicians and printers. There were plenty of bigots about, but it was not a ghetto in the sense we use the word to describe how the Nazis confined Jews to special areas before mass killings or deportations.
Celebrating our national motto
I was one of the speakers at the Washington, Pa.-based Wild Things’ Faith and Freedom Night on July 17, and I am offended at the misrepresentation of one person’s complaint about my presentation (“Baseball team’s Faith and Freedom Night not a hit for everyone,” Aug. 11).
The speech I offered, before hundreds of attendees, celebrated the 60th anniversary of our national motto “In God We Trust,” which happens to be a great Pennsylvania history story since it originated right here in our state. I have given this speech 67 times across the country to roaring approval, and there was cheering that night also in addition to the many people who came up to thank me afterward. None of that was mentioned.
Instead, the article focused on the misrepresentation of one person who falsely alleged, and which I refuted, various accusations beginning with, that I was arguing to “put God back into our government.” Absolutely false. I was pointing out through historical examples, and our national motto, that actually God has always been part of our government from its inception.
[Sharon Brustein of Squirrel Hill] then went on to complain that I spoke over my limit for 25 minutes. Once again, false. My limit was 15 minutes, and I spoke for 10 minutes, 52 seconds.
Our national motto was put on our coins to unite and inspire people during the Civil War. I provided examples of how not only in the U.S., but in Iraq and North Korea, our motto has inspired people around the world of all faiths. The only biblical quote I used was from Proverbs, which most agree was written by Solomon.
Our Supreme Court has acknowledged that our motto unites all faiths and will remain our motto as it reflects our spiritual and patriotic heritage. Many of our modern presidents have also reinforced its importance. I quoted President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address in which he stated: “The guiding principal and prayer of this nation has been, is now and shall ever be, ‘In God We Trust.’” (I think this refutes her allegation that I denigrated liberal Democrats.)
If someone is offended by our motto I suggest that person is likely looking to be offended. Instead, I think it would greatly benefit all of us to know and celebrate our national motto and its wonderful Pennsylvania heritage. In a culture that celebrates selfishness, our motto teaches respect for a higher power. That has always been my message and is a matter of public record. Happy 60th birthday to our national motto, “In God We Trust.”
State Representative (R-District 39)