Zurich is not only the largest city in Switzerland, it also has the biggest Jewish population – about 7,000 in the Greater Zurich area.
Our tour leads us through the alleys of the charming Old City. We discover the traces of the first Jewish community dating from the 13th century. We ‘meet’ the 14th century scholar Rabbi Moses, author of the Zürcher Semak. We find out about Frau Minne and her family who as Jews participated actively in Swiss court culture side by side with Christians, as attested to by the sensational mural from 1330 with words in Middle High German written in Hebrew script, a unique site which we will visit. From 1436 to 1862 Jews were not allowed to live in Zurich, so our tour continues to the modern city center, where we follow the lives of well-known personalities as they made their way from emancipation to full integration. Albert Einstein received his doctorate here at University of Zurich, as did the great political and economic theorist Rosa Luxemburg. Yehudi Menuhin, the violinist-of-the-century, founded a music festival and performed here many times. On Loewenstrasse we find Zurich’s oldest synagogue from 1884 – still used today.
During wartime, Switzerland harbored 25,000 Jewish refugees, but refused refuge to just as many. Issues of Holocaust victims and their heirs denied assets in Swiss banks and present compensations have recently come to public attention. Postwar Switzerland has played host to several waves of Jewish immigration. In 1956 and 1968, Ashkenazi Jews fleeing Hungary and Prague made their way to Switzerland. French-speaking Sephardic Jews from the Middle East and North Africa settled here. A dynamic orthodox community exists alongside a thriving liberal community.
Today’s Jewish community mirrors the larger Swiss society very well – it is small but well organized. The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities is representative of the religious diversity and heterogeneity of its 23 autonomous communities. To finish the tour, we can visit various private businesses that attest to a thriving Jewish life today. We travel to the center of the "Jewish Mile" where we can find a small kosher supermarket, a fashion shop and more. A stop at "Kosher Bagels" might be a nice place for a coffee break. If there is a time for a kosher meal there is the choice between restaurants "Olive Garden" and "Schein and Fein".