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Shalom, Switzerland: A Jewish Culture Guide

Complete with awe-inspiring vistas, equally as stunning architecture, and a friendly populace, and lest we forget, an abundance of fine chocolate, Switzerland is definitely worth a visit.

By: Sarah Bauder
Published: November 19th, 2013 in Culture » Society » News
Beth Yaakov Synagogue in Geneva, Switzerland

And we’re off, to anywhere and everywhere, as we say ‘Shalom’ every week to different global travel destination. World cities, provincial towns, and even the most unassuming of suburbs are infused with Jewish history and culture, some of which is waiting to be discovered.

For the pious follower, the curious traveler, or the intrepid adventurer, we’ll unearth the best of what to do and where to go. Be it an emerging subculture, a historical landmark, or simply a triumph of art in any form, Jewish experiences are found around the world; and likely as well in your backyard.

It may be in the destination, the journey, or the company, but there is much to uncover and celebrate near and far, so hurry up and get going.

Shalom, Switzerland


It is believed that the first Jews arrived in present-day Switzerland during the Roman era. However, according to documentation a Jewish community has existed in the country since the beginning of the 13th century. In fact, during the 1200’s Jewish settlements were established in various towns and cities throughout the region.

Unfortunately, during the Middle Ages, Jews faced discrimination and persecution all over Europe. The first incident of Swiss persecution against the Jewish population occurred in 1294 in Bern, when the community was accused of murdering a Christian boy. Many Jews were executed, and those remaining were expelled from the city. Yet, shortly thereafter the expulsion was revered, and Jews were permitted to return to Bern.

As the Black Death raged through Europe in the late 1340’s and early 1350’s, Jews and other minorities were often held responsible for the calamity. For instance in 1349, over 600 hundred Jews in Bern were burned at the stake, their children baptized, and the once flourishing community was dissolved. Many Jewish communities in Switzerland during the plague years faced persecution, expulsion, and even murder.

In the Middle Ages, most Jews were either merchants or moneylenders. They were restricted to specific areas, and often faced persecution from Swiss Christians who owed funds to Jewish moneylenders. Sadly, throughout the late Middle Ages and into the early Renaissance period, Jewish communities in Switzerland faced consistent persecution and expulsion. The discrimination continued into the 17th century, when in 1622, all Jews were banished from Switzerland, save for physicians. Over a century later, in 1776, Jews were permitted to only reside in two communities: Lengnau and Endingen. They were restricted in what professions they could practice, however, were free to practice their religion openly and erect a synagogue, and build a cemetery.

Beth Yaakov Synagogue in Geneva, Switzerland

Not until 1874, were Jews granted full equality under the federal constitution. They could live where they chose, and likewise could pursue any profession, no longer being subject to restrictions. Thus, there was an influx of Jewish immigrants into Switzerland. By the early 1920’s the community had reached over 20,000. Everything changed in the period leading up to World War II. Switzerland adopted a stance of neutrality during the war. Jews residing in the country were protected from Nazi persecution; however, Swiss authorities pursued hard-lined policies regarding Jewish refugees essentially closing the borders to asylum seekers.

Post-war Switzerland enjoyed economic and social advances. Today, there are estimated to be over 17,000 Jews living throughout Switzerland. Swiss Jewry is represented by the umbrella organization The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG/FSCI). Although shechita is illegal in Switzerland in favour of animal rights, the SIG/FSCI proves an extensive list of where to find kosher items in the country. Basel is home to the country’s only Jewish museum, the Jewish Museum of Switzerland. Likewise, the Israelitische Gemeinde Basel, or Great Synagogue in the city is regarded as a national landmark. In all, there are over two-dozen synagogues in Switzerland.

Complete with awe-inspiring vistas, equally as stunning architecture, and a friendly populace, and lest we forget, an abundance of fine chocolate, Switzerland is definitely worth a visit.

Links:

http://www.swissjews.ch/en/index_old.php

http://www.juedisches-museum.ch/content.php?lang=2


Related articles: Shalom, Switzerland, Geneva, Jewish, Culture Guide, Judaism, Vacation, Travel, Tourism, Backpacking, Bern
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