A visitor to the last standing Jewish day-school in Syria, the Maimonides Madrasah, will notice the logo of the Syrian Arab Republic’s Ministry of Education proudly chiseled above the entrance. The secular state stakes out an overt presence in many other Jewish sites in Damascus. The very centerpiece of the Syrian National Museum is a historical reconstruction of a 3rd century Jewish synagogue.
Since its inception in sixteenth century Venice, the term “ghetto” has been applied to Jewish urban spaces in Europe and the United States. Over the last half century, it has also become associated with African American inner city neighborhoods. Highly regulated and surveilled by the state, Jewish and African American ghettos have also been marked by a high degree of social autonomy.
Naomi Seidman is the Koret Professor of Jewish Culture and Director of the Richard S. Dinner Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.