Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg announced a major restoration project, and it’s not a new wing of Manhattan’s High Line. The Jewish designer and philanthropist is leading the charge on a $12 million project to restore and preserve the Jewish ghetto in Venice, Italy.
“As much as this renovation is about preserving the past and the rich history of the Venetian and Jewish communities, today is about the future. All of us are responsible for making sure that future generations – 500 years from today – have access to these stories of human culture and progress,” she said.
Von Furstenberg was born in Belgium in 1946, in the shadow of the Holocaust. Her mother, Lily Nahmias, had recently survived 13 months in the Auschwitz and Ravensbruck concentration camps. As she wrote in her recent book, “I didn’t know, as a very little girl in Brussels, why my mother had two lines of blue tattooed numbers on her left arm.”
The Venice ghetto, constructed in 1516, is believed to be the first ghetto ever built. Today the ghetto is clearly marked on tourist maps, and is a stop—marked in Italian and Hebrew—on the city’s popular water taxi route.
The ambitious project includes restoring the city’s five synagogues as well as its Jewish museum, and is projected to be completed by 2016, the 500th anniversary of the ghetto’s creation. Following the restoration, the former ghetto will reportedly be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.