Amsterdam & Italy 2011: Day 4 - Plunging into Venice 18Apr2011

This morning we were in Amsterdam and now, after midnight, we’ve had a tour of Venice’s Grand Canal, wandered through market squares and tourist-packed streets, chanted Ma’ariv services outdoors with Chabad in the Jewish Ghetto and were part of a Passover seder feast with people from all over the world. 

If all roads lead to Rome, it sure seems like many lead to Venice as well, and with different modes of transportation.

We were very lucky with the timing after landing at the Marco Polo airport. I also pushed the call and answer “Marco”…..”Polo”….”Marco”…”Polo” to its annoying limit with the family, a trait I am so proud to have passed on to Daniel. We caught a public bus, at 5 Euros each, then the #1 vaporetto or water taxi at a harder-to-believe 6.50 Euros each but this allowed us a great chance to see the towns from the airport to Venice and then too see a good amount of Venice til we hopped off at our stop, Mercato Rialto, and easily rolled our bags to the Pensionne Guerato. Built in 1255, making it 300 years older than our hotel in Amsterdam, it also has lots of charm.

We took a 30-40 minute walk over the Rialto bridge then in search of our seder in the new jewish ghetto. Although somewhat disorganized, this is Italy! There were quite a few Chabad rabbis lingering about, some scurrying, others dawdling, and still others sitting. None of them were completely sure of what the plans were but over the following couple of hours everyone figured things out. Our Chabad instructions from the internet said things started at the Gam Gam restaurant with candle lighting, walk over to services, then return for the seder.

One of the three synagogues was open, looking quite grand from the glimpses we could see of the upper floors through their open windows. However, security would not let people in with any cameras or phones, even if they were turned off, even if you had a passport or other government issued ID card. If addmitted, you also had to agree to stay til the 9:30 pm conclusion of services that started at 7:45 pm. We didn’t want to walk 30 minutes back to the hotel to leave our things or trust them at the Gam Gam restaurant so we took a raincheck on that one.

Chabad held their own services outdoors in the open courtyard. There were some delays waiting for sunset to mark the beginning of evening. The rabbi told what I am sure was a great story, full of bravado, that might have even started with “a funny thing happened on the way to the forum.” Despite the awesome delivery, it was entirely in Hebrew so I had no idea what he was talking about!

Around 9 pm the seder began for the English speaking folks like us. It was the full deal, covering all of the Hagadah passover story with the traditional taking turns reading passages from the answer to the four questions. Everyone sang the four questions together along with other prayers. By 11 pm we had gotten through the appetizers and more songs but headed back to our hotel before the main course of soup, chicken, kugel, carrots and other things I didn’t see in the tin foil covered kitchen on our way out into the night.