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The Jewish Community of Avenches

Avenches

In German: Wiflisburg 

A village in the district of Broye-Vully in the canton of Vaud, Switzerland.

The Jewish settlement in Avenches started in 1826. The Jewish population, most of them immigrants from Alsace, continued to increase. In 1847 there were 27 Jewish families in the village, then in 1870 a total of 260 Jews, 14% of the general population lived in Avenches. Later, during the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, the number of Jewish inhabitants decreased sharply with 74 recorded in 1917 and only two in 1950. In the 19th century, most of the local Jews made a living as horse traders.

During the first years, Jews prayed in a private prayer room. It took from 1850 to 1865 to receive the municipal council’s permit and then to build the synagogue. The building with a capacity of 120 seats, sixty for men and sixty for women, was inaugurated in August 1865. The mikveh was located in the basement of the synagogue. The community had a school and employed a teacher who lived in an apartment on the first floor of the synagogue and also served as prayer leader and shochet.

Due to the deceasing Jewish population, the synagogue was not in used after the 1930s. The building was demolished in 1957 and the ritual object transferred to the Jewish communities of Bern and Lausanne. In 1979 a memorial stone was placed on the site of the former synagogue.

Place Type:
Village
ID Number:
21618231
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
Nearby places:

Related items:

Moses (Moïse) Nordmann (1809-1884), rabbi and writer, born in Hegenheim, Alsace, France. He attended a school in Nancy, France, and then he studied at the Universities of Heidelberg, after 1828, and then at the University of Wurzburg, Germany. After 1834 he first served as rabbi in Hegenheim, at the time home of one of the largest Jewish communities in Alsace. In the 1830s, Nordmann was the only rabbi in Alsace who did graduate from the École centrale rabbinique of Metz. In 1848 he organized the resistance against anti-Jewish riots in Hegenheim. He moved to Switzerland, where he was rabbi in Avenches, Les Chauds-des-Fonds, Bern and finally in Basel. Nordmann was instrumental in establishing synagogues in all these places, including the first synagogue in Basel in 1850, and then the second one in 1868. Nordmann promoted girls' schooling and was one of the co-founders of the Israelite Asylum in Hegenheim.

Switzerland

Swiss Confederation

Country situated in central Europe.

21st Century

Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities SIG
Gotthardstrasse 65
P.O. Box
8027 Zurich
Switzerland

Phone: 41 (0)43 305 07 77
Website: https://www.swissjews.ch/en/contact/

Jewish life in Switzerland is represented by traditional, Ultra-orthodox, Sephardi and Reform communities.

Their activities include synagogues, Jewish communities, kindergartens, schools, youth movements, kosher shops and cultural events. There are several Jewish cemeteries in various regions. The oldest is situated between Endingen and Lengnau, villages where Jews were allowed to live towards the end of the 18th century.

Jewish communities and organizations are united in the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities founded in 1904. The Swiss Federation founded the World Jewish Congress in 1936. Jews were represented in the clock, textile, they were also prominent in the establishement of department stores such as Nordmann and in the cattle trade. The country’s first woman president, Ruth Dreifuss (1999-2000) was Jewish.

The First Zionist Congress (1897) held in the Stadt Casino Basel is commemorated with a bronze plaque on the side of the concert hall stage. The long time yearning for a return to the ancestral home became increasingly concrete in the 19th century and the First Zionist Congress with Theodor Herzl at its helm was transformative in this quest of establishing a modern state and make the desert bloom. Besides being home to the 1897 Basel Congress, this city also houses a Jewish museum.

Switzerland had a Jewish population of around 18,000 in the late 2010s with the largest communities in Zurich, Geneva and Basel.

 

Prominent Figures

The most prominent figure to have lived in Switzerland is Albert Einstein. Raised in Switzerland he studied at the Federal Polytechnic Academy in Zurich. He served as examiner at the country’s patent office. Other notables were the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, composer Ernest Bloch, poet Elias Canetti and author Albert Cohen. Also the originally German economist and social revolutionary with Polish roots, Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) [ˈʁoːza ˈlʊksəmbʊʁk] lived in Switzerland. She gained her PhD at the University of Zurich.

 

History

First Jews probably arrived in the area nowadays called Switzerland along with the Romans. One location where Jews settled in the 3rd century AD was in the Roman town of Augusta Raurica close to Basel.

The Swiss state was formally established in 1291, the Confoederatio Helevetica. With Ashkenazi settlement on Swiss land in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Jewish population in the area increased though by the mid-14th century the communities were still quite small. Some communities had cemeteries at the time. Jews were subjected to discriminatory laws in the Middle Age.

In the second half of the 16th century there was Jewish settlement in the area of the canton of Basel respectively southern Alsace and possibly in the Bodensee area. Jewish rural communities started to flourish in the 17th century on the Swiss border in the areas of western Alsace, Rhine valley, canton Basel and Hohenems and were occupied in cattle trade and peddling. They were however expelled at the end of the century beginning of the 18th century.

Jews were allowed to live in the villages Lengnau and Endingen in the canton of Aargau in 1776. This rule lasted for nearly 100 years. In the mid-18th century synagogues were consecrated. In the 70s Jews also settled in Neuchatel and in the area of Geneva. France and other countries started to develop an interest in securing the rights of the Jewish population and emancipation of the Jewish population started. With ongoing pressure from outside of Switzerland, Jews were permitted to settle in other locations of the country by 1866. They were gradually given civil rights and duties as per the Swiss federal constitution, however, there remained restrictions on professions. At the time there were around 553 Jews living in Switzerland.

In the late 19th early 20th century, Jews immigrated from Alsace, Germany and East Europe and Jewish life in Switzerland was blooming. The First Zionist Congress was held in the canton of Basel in 1897.

 

The Holocaust Period

Following World War I, antisemitism started to rise in Switzerland. After 1933 Jewish refugees were no longer permitted entry in spite of protest actions by politicians, church and citizens. With the annexation of Austria by Germany in March 1938, there was a wave of Jewish refugees attempting to enter Switzerland. Austrian and German Jews’ passports were marked with a J which enabled barring their entry.

During World War II the country was spared from Nazi occupation. Overall local Jews were protected by the country’s neutrality and 25,000 Jews were given protection by Switzerland.

 

Postwar

The following decades tolerance began to spread and Jews became well integrated into Swiss society. In the early post-war decades, Jews of Sephardi origin from North Africa settled down in the Geneva and Lausanne areas.

Jewish communities took care of Hungarian and Egyptian Jewish refugees fleeing after the Hungarian Uprising and Suez War of 1956, and Czechoslovak Jews fleeing after August 1968.

Fribourg

City and capital of the Fribourg canton, Switzerland. 

Toward the middle of the 14th century, a number of Jews received permission to settle in Fribourg as citizens and to engage in moneylending. As elsewhere in Switzerland, they lived in their own part of the town, although not confined to a ghetto. On the outbreak of the Black Death (1348-1349), the Jews of Fribourg, like those in the rest of Europe, were accused of causing the epidemic by spreading poison. The decrees of expulsion of the Jews from 1428 and 1463 were not permanent. Jews were subsequently granted the right to buy houses. Until at least 1481 Jews could live in the city.
From the end of the 17th century, Jewish cattle dealers were occasionally permitted to visit the city's open market, but the ban on Jewish commerce issued by nearby Berne in 1787 also affected Fribourg until 1798. Restrictions against the settlement of Jews remained in force until 1864, though some privileged Jews received residence permits after 1843. The present community was founded in 1895. In 1968 it numbered approximately 150 persons and had a synagogue. In 2000, Jews in the canton of Fribourg numbered 138 persons; 66 were members of the community. The community built a synagogue in 1904 and acquired a cemetery. It was given an official status in 1999/2000. The leading Nordmann family opened department stores. Jean Nordmann, president of the Jewish community Association in 1973-1980, was one of the first Jewish colonels in the Swiss army. Jewish subjects are taught at the local Catholic university.

Berne

Alternate spelling: Bern

Capital of Switzerland

The Jewish Community Berne (German: Judische Gemeinde Berne, JGB) has been the official and organizing force within Berne's Jewish community since 1848. It is located next to the Berne Synagogue at Kapellenstrasse 2. The JGB offers guided tours of the synagogue, which in addition to being open for tours also holds weekly services, on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. Rabbi David Polnauer has served as the community's rabbi since 2007.

Community services include a Hebrew school, for students in grades 1-9, as well as a weekly youth group for ages 7 through 16. Social organizations include a Bikkur Holim, an Israeli Club, a sports club (Judischer Turnverein Berne, JTV), a Jewish Women's Club, WIZO, and the Association of Jewish Students (Verein Judischer Studierender Berne).

Though there are no kosher restaurants in Berne, kosher products can be found in the Loeb AG supermarket.

The Jewish cemetery, which was consecrated in 1871 and has remained functioning, is located on Papiermuhlestrasse 112. The cemetery includes a Holocaust memorial, which was erected in 1988. The cemetery is open for visitors from Sunday through Friday, and closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays.

HISTORY

The first documented evidence of Jews in Berne dates from the 1260s. At that time most worked as moneylenders. In 1293 or 1294, following a blood libel accusation, a number of Jews were killed and the rest were expelled from the city. Shortly thereafter an agreement was made allowing the Jews to return, on the condition that they pay a fee of 1,500 marks, and that they forgive all debts owed to them.

During the Black Death epidemic (1348) the Jews of Berne were accused of poisoning the wells and a number were burned at the stake. At the end of the century, in 1392, the Jews were expelled from Berne. Although there were some Jews living in Berne between 1408 and 1427, those who subsequently arrived in the city, mostly physicians and cattle dealers, stayed only temporarily.

After the occupation of Switzerland by the French revolutionary armies and the foundation of the Helvetian republic in 1798, a number of Jews began arriving in Berne from Alsace and a number of other locations. They needed a special license in order to engage in commerce, and were also required to keep their accounts in German or French, instead of their native Alsatian Judeo-German.These restrictions were ultimately removed in 1846.

The Jewish Community of Berne (German: Judische Gemeinde Bern, JGB) was founded in 1848. A synagogue was consecrated in 1855; a cemetery followed in 1871.

Berne University, which was established in 1834, became one of the first German-speaking universities to hire Jewish lecturers without requiring them to change their professed faith; a number of Jews subsequently held academic positions in the university, including Dr. Gabriel Gustav Valentin, the first Jewish professor to be elected to a chair at a German-speaking university, and Anna Tumarkin, the university's first female professor. Albert Einstein also served as faculty in the natural sciences department. The university was attended by a number of Jewish students from Russia and Hungary before World War I; one notable alumnus was Chaim Weizmann, who would later become the first president of the State of Israel.

From 1933 until 1935 a trial was held in Berne in which evidence was submitted indicating that the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a forgery. The court ruled that the work was fiction, and the publisher was fined, only for the ruling to be thrown out in 1937 on a legal technicality.

In 1969 there were 230 families who indicated that they were members of the Jewish community of Berne (it is likely that there were more Jews in the city who did not affiliate with the established community).

Neuchâtel

German: Neuenburg

The capital of the Neuchatel Canton, Switzerland

In the year 2000 there were 266 Jews living in Neuchatel.

HISTORY

The earliest records of Jews in the canton date to 1288, when a blood libel accusation was levied against the community and a number of Jews were consequently killed. Later, during the Black Death epidemic of 1348-1349 the Jews of Neuchatel were once again the victims of violence when they were blamed for causing the plague.

After 1476 there are no further references to Jews living in the canton until 1767, when a few Jewish people who had arrived from Alsace were expelled. After a subsequent expulsion in 1790, it was only in 1812 that Jews began to return to Neuchatel; they received the right to legally reside in the city in 1830.

The Jewish population of the canton was 144 in 1844. The Jewish population rose to 1,020 in 1900, a result of the community's economic success. Shortly thereafter, however, the community began to decline, and by 1969 there were about 200 Jews living in the city.

Biel/Bienne

In French: Bienne; in German: Biel

A town in the canton of Berne, Switzerland.
 

MODERN ERA

The neo-Moorish synagogue of Biel (1883) renovated in 1995 includes a redesign of windows by Israeli artist Robert Nechin. The Biel community hosted the 2014 Assembly of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities. The synagogue was filled with people and prayers on the morning of the assembly, giving a feeling of its atmosphere of several decades ago. On that occasion, the community published a brochure: “Small, but tasteful”.

 

HISTORY

Citizenship was granted to several Jewish families in 1305, although Jews probably settled in Biel earlier. They were allowed to trade freely and engage in money lending, until their expulsion from the city, the date of which is unknown. Communal life revived after 1848, when several Jewish families from Alsace-Lorraine settled in Biel. The synagogue was consecrated in 1883.

 

POST WORLD WAR II

In 1969 the community consisted of 227 people and had its own rabbi.
 

Thun

In French: Thoune

A town near Lake Thun in the canton of Bern, Switzerland.

Towards the end of the 19th century a handful of Jewish families moved to Thun. In 1918 there were eight Jewish families with a total of 37 people in Thun. At the time they organized themselves into a small Jewish community whose main task was to organize the prayers during the High Holidays. However, there has never been an independent Jewish community in Thun. During the 1920s and the 1930s religious services, primarily religious instruction for children, were provided by Rabbi Dr. Moritz (Mordechai) Donath from the Jewish community of Yverdon-les-Bains who acted as an itinerant rabbi for a number of small communities in Switzerland.

Most Jews made a living as traders. Stadt Paris, a local department store opened in 1913, was owned by the Lucien, Edmond, Jonas and Léon Geismar brothers, who came to Switzerland from Grussenheim in Alsace. The store continued to be owned by the Geismar family until 1961, when it was sold to the Tschui company.

During the 1990s there were about 20 Jewish inhabitants in Thun and they belonged to the Jewish community of Bern. In 2019 their number decreased to only nine.

Yverdon-les-Bains

A town in the district of Jura-Nord vaudois of the canton of Vaud, Switzerland.

A few Jewish families from Alsace settled in Yverdon by mid-19th century. In 1860 there were six Jewish families in the city. This number increased to about 20 families with a total of 100 people in 1920.

The local Jews prayed in a private prayer room. They had never build a synagogue. During late 19th century and early 20th century, a cantor was also in charge of the children’s religious education. During the 1920s and the 1930s religious services, primarily religious instruction for children, were provided by Rabbi Dr. Moritz (Mordechai) Donath, a resident of Yverdon, who also acted as an itinerant rabbi for a number of small communities in Switzerland. The prayer room was closed in 1970.

In early 21st century, the few Jewish inhabitants of Yverdon belonged to the Jewish Community of Lausanne and the Vaud Canton (Communauté Israélite de Lausanne et du canton de Vaud).

One of the towers of the 13th century castle of Yverdon-les-Bains is known as La tour des Juifs (“Jews Tower”).

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The Jewish Community of Avenches

Avenches

In German: Wiflisburg 

A village in the district of Broye-Vully in the canton of Vaud, Switzerland.

The Jewish settlement in Avenches started in 1826. The Jewish population, most of them immigrants from Alsace, continued to increase. In 1847 there were 27 Jewish families in the village, then in 1870 a total of 260 Jews, 14% of the general population lived in Avenches. Later, during the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, the number of Jewish inhabitants decreased sharply with 74 recorded in 1917 and only two in 1950. In the 19th century, most of the local Jews made a living as horse traders.

During the first years, Jews prayed in a private prayer room. It took from 1850 to 1865 to receive the municipal council’s permit and then to build the synagogue. The building with a capacity of 120 seats, sixty for men and sixty for women, was inaugurated in August 1865. The mikveh was located in the basement of the synagogue. The community had a school and employed a teacher who lived in an apartment on the first floor of the synagogue and also served as prayer leader and shochet.

Due to the deceasing Jewish population, the synagogue was not in used after the 1930s. The building was demolished in 1957 and the ritual object transferred to the Jewish communities of Bern and Lausanne. In 1979 a memorial stone was placed on the site of the former synagogue.

Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
Moses Nordmann

Moses (Moïse) Nordmann (1809-1884), rabbi and writer, born in Hegenheim, Alsace, France. He attended a school in Nancy, France, and then he studied at the Universities of Heidelberg, after 1828, and then at the University of Wurzburg, Germany. After 1834 he first served as rabbi in Hegenheim, at the time home of one of the largest Jewish communities in Alsace. In the 1830s, Nordmann was the only rabbi in Alsace who did graduate from the École centrale rabbinique of Metz. In 1848 he organized the resistance against anti-Jewish riots in Hegenheim. He moved to Switzerland, where he was rabbi in Avenches, Les Chauds-des-Fonds, Bern and finally in Basel. Nordmann was instrumental in establishing synagogues in all these places, including the first synagogue in Basel in 1850, and then the second one in 1868. Nordmann promoted girls' schooling and was one of the co-founders of the Israelite Asylum in Hegenheim.

Switzerland

Switzerland

Swiss Confederation

Country situated in central Europe.

21st Century

Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities SIG
Gotthardstrasse 65
P.O. Box
8027 Zurich
Switzerland

Phone: 41 (0)43 305 07 77
Website: https://www.swissjews.ch/en/contact/

Jewish life in Switzerland is represented by traditional, Ultra-orthodox, Sephardi and Reform communities.

Their activities include synagogues, Jewish communities, kindergartens, schools, youth movements, kosher shops and cultural events. There are several Jewish cemeteries in various regions. The oldest is situated between Endingen and Lengnau, villages where Jews were allowed to live towards the end of the 18th century.

Jewish communities and organizations are united in the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities founded in 1904. The Swiss Federation founded the World Jewish Congress in 1936. Jews were represented in the clock, textile, they were also prominent in the establishement of department stores such as Nordmann and in the cattle trade. The country’s first woman president, Ruth Dreifuss (1999-2000) was Jewish.

The First Zionist Congress (1897) held in the Stadt Casino Basel is commemorated with a bronze plaque on the side of the concert hall stage. The long time yearning for a return to the ancestral home became increasingly concrete in the 19th century and the First Zionist Congress with Theodor Herzl at its helm was transformative in this quest of establishing a modern state and make the desert bloom. Besides being home to the 1897 Basel Congress, this city also houses a Jewish museum.

Switzerland had a Jewish population of around 18,000 in the late 2010s with the largest communities in Zurich, Geneva and Basel.

 

Prominent Figures

The most prominent figure to have lived in Switzerland is Albert Einstein. Raised in Switzerland he studied at the Federal Polytechnic Academy in Zurich. He served as examiner at the country’s patent office. Other notables were the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, composer Ernest Bloch, poet Elias Canetti and author Albert Cohen. Also the originally German economist and social revolutionary with Polish roots, Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) [ˈʁoːza ˈlʊksəmbʊʁk] lived in Switzerland. She gained her PhD at the University of Zurich.

 

History

First Jews probably arrived in the area nowadays called Switzerland along with the Romans. One location where Jews settled in the 3rd century AD was in the Roman town of Augusta Raurica close to Basel.

The Swiss state was formally established in 1291, the Confoederatio Helevetica. With Ashkenazi settlement on Swiss land in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Jewish population in the area increased though by the mid-14th century the communities were still quite small. Some communities had cemeteries at the time. Jews were subjected to discriminatory laws in the Middle Age.

In the second half of the 16th century there was Jewish settlement in the area of the canton of Basel respectively southern Alsace and possibly in the Bodensee area. Jewish rural communities started to flourish in the 17th century on the Swiss border in the areas of western Alsace, Rhine valley, canton Basel and Hohenems and were occupied in cattle trade and peddling. They were however expelled at the end of the century beginning of the 18th century.

Jews were allowed to live in the villages Lengnau and Endingen in the canton of Aargau in 1776. This rule lasted for nearly 100 years. In the mid-18th century synagogues were consecrated. In the 70s Jews also settled in Neuchatel and in the area of Geneva. France and other countries started to develop an interest in securing the rights of the Jewish population and emancipation of the Jewish population started. With ongoing pressure from outside of Switzerland, Jews were permitted to settle in other locations of the country by 1866. They were gradually given civil rights and duties as per the Swiss federal constitution, however, there remained restrictions on professions. At the time there were around 553 Jews living in Switzerland.

In the late 19th early 20th century, Jews immigrated from Alsace, Germany and East Europe and Jewish life in Switzerland was blooming. The First Zionist Congress was held in the canton of Basel in 1897.

 

The Holocaust Period

Following World War I, antisemitism started to rise in Switzerland. After 1933 Jewish refugees were no longer permitted entry in spite of protest actions by politicians, church and citizens. With the annexation of Austria by Germany in March 1938, there was a wave of Jewish refugees attempting to enter Switzerland. Austrian and German Jews’ passports were marked with a J which enabled barring their entry.

During World War II the country was spared from Nazi occupation. Overall local Jews were protected by the country’s neutrality and 25,000 Jews were given protection by Switzerland.

 

Postwar

The following decades tolerance began to spread and Jews became well integrated into Swiss society. In the early post-war decades, Jews of Sephardi origin from North Africa settled down in the Geneva and Lausanne areas.

Jewish communities took care of Hungarian and Egyptian Jewish refugees fleeing after the Hungarian Uprising and Suez War of 1956, and Czechoslovak Jews fleeing after August 1968.

Fribourg

Fribourg

City and capital of the Fribourg canton, Switzerland. 

Toward the middle of the 14th century, a number of Jews received permission to settle in Fribourg as citizens and to engage in moneylending. As elsewhere in Switzerland, they lived in their own part of the town, although not confined to a ghetto. On the outbreak of the Black Death (1348-1349), the Jews of Fribourg, like those in the rest of Europe, were accused of causing the epidemic by spreading poison. The decrees of expulsion of the Jews from 1428 and 1463 were not permanent. Jews were subsequently granted the right to buy houses. Until at least 1481 Jews could live in the city.
From the end of the 17th century, Jewish cattle dealers were occasionally permitted to visit the city's open market, but the ban on Jewish commerce issued by nearby Berne in 1787 also affected Fribourg until 1798. Restrictions against the settlement of Jews remained in force until 1864, though some privileged Jews received residence permits after 1843. The present community was founded in 1895. In 1968 it numbered approximately 150 persons and had a synagogue. In 2000, Jews in the canton of Fribourg numbered 138 persons; 66 were members of the community. The community built a synagogue in 1904 and acquired a cemetery. It was given an official status in 1999/2000. The leading Nordmann family opened department stores. Jean Nordmann, president of the Jewish community Association in 1973-1980, was one of the first Jewish colonels in the Swiss army. Jewish subjects are taught at the local Catholic university.

Berne, Switzerland
Berne

Alternate spelling: Bern

Capital of Switzerland

The Jewish Community Berne (German: Judische Gemeinde Berne, JGB) has been the official and organizing force within Berne's Jewish community since 1848. It is located next to the Berne Synagogue at Kapellenstrasse 2. The JGB offers guided tours of the synagogue, which in addition to being open for tours also holds weekly services, on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. Rabbi David Polnauer has served as the community's rabbi since 2007.

Community services include a Hebrew school, for students in grades 1-9, as well as a weekly youth group for ages 7 through 16. Social organizations include a Bikkur Holim, an Israeli Club, a sports club (Judischer Turnverein Berne, JTV), a Jewish Women's Club, WIZO, and the Association of Jewish Students (Verein Judischer Studierender Berne).

Though there are no kosher restaurants in Berne, kosher products can be found in the Loeb AG supermarket.

The Jewish cemetery, which was consecrated in 1871 and has remained functioning, is located on Papiermuhlestrasse 112. The cemetery includes a Holocaust memorial, which was erected in 1988. The cemetery is open for visitors from Sunday through Friday, and closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays.

HISTORY

The first documented evidence of Jews in Berne dates from the 1260s. At that time most worked as moneylenders. In 1293 or 1294, following a blood libel accusation, a number of Jews were killed and the rest were expelled from the city. Shortly thereafter an agreement was made allowing the Jews to return, on the condition that they pay a fee of 1,500 marks, and that they forgive all debts owed to them.

During the Black Death epidemic (1348) the Jews of Berne were accused of poisoning the wells and a number were burned at the stake. At the end of the century, in 1392, the Jews were expelled from Berne. Although there were some Jews living in Berne between 1408 and 1427, those who subsequently arrived in the city, mostly physicians and cattle dealers, stayed only temporarily.

After the occupation of Switzerland by the French revolutionary armies and the foundation of the Helvetian republic in 1798, a number of Jews began arriving in Berne from Alsace and a number of other locations. They needed a special license in order to engage in commerce, and were also required to keep their accounts in German or French, instead of their native Alsatian Judeo-German.These restrictions were ultimately removed in 1846.

The Jewish Community of Berne (German: Judische Gemeinde Bern, JGB) was founded in 1848. A synagogue was consecrated in 1855; a cemetery followed in 1871.

Berne University, which was established in 1834, became one of the first German-speaking universities to hire Jewish lecturers without requiring them to change their professed faith; a number of Jews subsequently held academic positions in the university, including Dr. Gabriel Gustav Valentin, the first Jewish professor to be elected to a chair at a German-speaking university, and Anna Tumarkin, the university's first female professor. Albert Einstein also served as faculty in the natural sciences department. The university was attended by a number of Jewish students from Russia and Hungary before World War I; one notable alumnus was Chaim Weizmann, who would later become the first president of the State of Israel.

From 1933 until 1935 a trial was held in Berne in which evidence was submitted indicating that the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a forgery. The court ruled that the work was fiction, and the publisher was fined, only for the ruling to be thrown out in 1937 on a legal technicality.

In 1969 there were 230 families who indicated that they were members of the Jewish community of Berne (it is likely that there were more Jews in the city who did not affiliate with the established community).

Neuchatel

Neuchâtel

German: Neuenburg

The capital of the Neuchatel Canton, Switzerland

In the year 2000 there were 266 Jews living in Neuchatel.

HISTORY

The earliest records of Jews in the canton date to 1288, when a blood libel accusation was levied against the community and a number of Jews were consequently killed. Later, during the Black Death epidemic of 1348-1349 the Jews of Neuchatel were once again the victims of violence when they were blamed for causing the plague.

After 1476 there are no further references to Jews living in the canton until 1767, when a few Jewish people who had arrived from Alsace were expelled. After a subsequent expulsion in 1790, it was only in 1812 that Jews began to return to Neuchatel; they received the right to legally reside in the city in 1830.

The Jewish population of the canton was 144 in 1844. The Jewish population rose to 1,020 in 1900, a result of the community's economic success. Shortly thereafter, however, the community began to decline, and by 1969 there were about 200 Jews living in the city.

Biel/Bienne

Biel/Bienne

In French: Bienne; in German: Biel

A town in the canton of Berne, Switzerland.
 

MODERN ERA

The neo-Moorish synagogue of Biel (1883) renovated in 1995 includes a redesign of windows by Israeli artist Robert Nechin. The Biel community hosted the 2014 Assembly of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities. The synagogue was filled with people and prayers on the morning of the assembly, giving a feeling of its atmosphere of several decades ago. On that occasion, the community published a brochure: “Small, but tasteful”.

 

HISTORY

Citizenship was granted to several Jewish families in 1305, although Jews probably settled in Biel earlier. They were allowed to trade freely and engage in money lending, until their expulsion from the city, the date of which is unknown. Communal life revived after 1848, when several Jewish families from Alsace-Lorraine settled in Biel. The synagogue was consecrated in 1883.

 

POST WORLD WAR II

In 1969 the community consisted of 227 people and had its own rabbi.
 

Thun

Thun

In French: Thoune

A town near Lake Thun in the canton of Bern, Switzerland.

Towards the end of the 19th century a handful of Jewish families moved to Thun. In 1918 there were eight Jewish families with a total of 37 people in Thun. At the time they organized themselves into a small Jewish community whose main task was to organize the prayers during the High Holidays. However, there has never been an independent Jewish community in Thun. During the 1920s and the 1930s religious services, primarily religious instruction for children, were provided by Rabbi Dr. Moritz (Mordechai) Donath from the Jewish community of Yverdon-les-Bains who acted as an itinerant rabbi for a number of small communities in Switzerland.

Most Jews made a living as traders. Stadt Paris, a local department store opened in 1913, was owned by the Lucien, Edmond, Jonas and Léon Geismar brothers, who came to Switzerland from Grussenheim in Alsace. The store continued to be owned by the Geismar family until 1961, when it was sold to the Tschui company.

During the 1990s there were about 20 Jewish inhabitants in Thun and they belonged to the Jewish community of Bern. In 2019 their number decreased to only nine.

Yverdon-les-Bains

Yverdon-les-Bains

A town in the district of Jura-Nord vaudois of the canton of Vaud, Switzerland.

A few Jewish families from Alsace settled in Yverdon by mid-19th century. In 1860 there were six Jewish families in the city. This number increased to about 20 families with a total of 100 people in 1920.

The local Jews prayed in a private prayer room. They had never build a synagogue. During late 19th century and early 20th century, a cantor was also in charge of the children’s religious education. During the 1920s and the 1930s religious services, primarily religious instruction for children, were provided by Rabbi Dr. Moritz (Mordechai) Donath, a resident of Yverdon, who also acted as an itinerant rabbi for a number of small communities in Switzerland. The prayer room was closed in 1970.

In early 21st century, the few Jewish inhabitants of Yverdon belonged to the Jewish Community of Lausanne and the Vaud Canton (Communauté Israélite de Lausanne et du canton de Vaud).

One of the towers of the 13th century castle of Yverdon-les-Bains is known as La tour des Juifs (“Jews Tower”).