The largest communities are Zurich (6,800), Geneva (4,400), and Basel (2,600). Jews are also to be found in other cities and towns throughout the Swiss Federation. Some 61% of the Jews live in the German-speaking part of the country and 36% in the French-speaking part.
During the Shoah, Swiss Jews were protected by the state’s neutrality. However, a number of Swiss initiatives prevented the entry of Jewish refugees. These included inducing the Germans to mark the passports of Jews with the letter “J.” By the war’s end, 25,000 Jews had benefited from Swiss protection, but many thousands of others had been delivered back into the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators and lost their lives as a result. In recent years, under pressure from the international community and the World Jewish Congress, Switzerland was forced to confront its behavior during the Holocaust. Several committees were formed to investigate the issue of Jewish assets deposited in Switzerland and the history of Swiss banks’ collaboration with Nazi Germany in laundering confiscated and looted gold and other valuables. In the beginning of 1997 the Swiss established a humanitarian fund dedicated to needy Holocaust survivors.
The Swiss community is presided over mostly by the Schweizerischer Israelitischer Gemeindebund (SIG), founded in 1904 to oppose the restriction on shechita.
Ultra-Orthodox and Reform communities operate independently-i.e., without affiliation to the SIG. There are more than 20 cities and towns where Jewish populations have organized communities.
A number of international Jewish organizations have representative offices in Geneva. These include the World Jewish Congress.
Synagogues of a variety of denominations operate in Switzerland: traditional, ultra-Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Sephardi. Zurich has four synagogues, Geneva three, Basel two, and Lugano two. Synagogues are also to be found in Baden, Berne, Fribourg, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Lausanne, Lucerne, Vevey-Montreux, St. Gallen, and Winterthur. Rabbis are employed in Zurich, Geneva, and Basel, where an Orthodox seminary is active. The SIG plays a role in the distribution of kosher food, which, due to the shechita prohibition, is mostly imported.
Due to the dispersed nature of the Jewish population, nine schools are operating in five cities. These are Zurich, Lausanne, Lucerne, Basel, and Kriens-Obernau.
There are three Jewish newspapers for the German-speaking Jewish community and one publication for the French-speakers, who are mostly concentrated in Geneva.
Israel and Switzerland enjoy full diplomatic relations. In addition to its embassy in Berne, Israel also maintains a consulate general in Zurich and a representative mission to international organizations in Geneva. Aliya: Since 1948, 3,220 Swiss Jews have emigrated to Israel.
The site of the first Zionist Congress in 1897, is the Musiksaal of the Stadt-Casino in Basel. The Jewish museum in Basel chronicles the history of Swiss Jewry, and in its courtyard are tombstones from the 13th century. Among the cemeteries of particular historical interest are those in Endingen and Lengnau.
Large numbers of Jewish tourists visit Switzerland at all times of the year. Consequently, in certain resort towns, there are hotels that provide kosher facilities.
Schweizerischer Israelitischer Gemeindebund (SIG-FSCI)
Fédération suisse des communautés israélites
Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities
CH – 8027 Zürich
Tel: +41 (0)43 305 07 77
Fax: +41 (0)43 305 07 66
Tel. 41 31 351 1042, Fax. 41 31 352 7916
Fein & Schein
Avenue Dumas 21
For up to date information on Kosher restaurants and locations please see the Shamash Kosher Database
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