The Jewish Community Bern (German: Jüdische Gemeinde Bern, JGB) is the officially recognized religious community for Jews in and around Bern.
It was founded in 1848 by Jews originating from Alsace, France as the Corporation of Israelites in Bern. In 1867 it was reorganized as the Cultural Association of Israelites in Bern and in 1908 renamed to the Israelite Cultural Community Bern. As the range of activities undertaken by the community grew, the name “Cultural” was no longer appropriate and therefore dropped in 1973. In addition, the name “Israelite” was often confused with “Israeli”; hence in 1982 the term was replaced with Jewish, leading to the name used to the present day – Jewish Community Bern.
Synagoge von Bern mit
The community’s center is the Bern Synagogue at Kapellenstrasse 2. It was inaugurated in 1906 and extended with an adjacent community building in 1971. The position of Rabbi has been held by David Polnauer since April 2007. He was born in Hungary in 1954.
The community has it’s own cemetery, the Jewish Cemetary Bern, which was inaugurated in 1871 and located in Papiermühlestrasse.
Bern used to have a Jewish community during the middle ages. However, after various pogroms all Jews were driven out of Bern by 1427. An important role was played by the legendary ritual murderer, Rudolf of Bern, who died around 1294 and was honored in Bern Cathedral as a martyr. Karl Howald proposed a theory that the figure depicted on the Kindlifresser fountain represents a Jew, because of the pointed hat similar to that worn by Jews. This theory is however almost certainly incorrect.
In 1898, the University of Bern promoted the Russian-Jewish philosopher Anna Tumarkin (1875-1951) as it’s first female professor. In 1906 she was awarded the title Honorary Professor and in 1908 Extraordinaria, and thus the first female professor in Europe with the right to assess postgraduates and professors, and with a seat in the senate. In 1911 she was awarded Swiss citizenship.
In a Bernese court case lasting from 1933 to 1935, the antisemitic text The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was declared to be fictional and the publisher was fined accordingly. However, in November 1937 the ruling was annulled on a legal technicality. During the original trial Carl Albert Loosli was called as an expert witness. He had already been fighting antisemitism for many years, with his text Die Schlimmen Juden (The Bad Jews) from 1927. Further information can be found in Wikipedia, the SIG factsheetor the Alemannia Judaica.
The Bern synagogue was built during 1905-6 in the so-called Maurisch architectural style. It was formally inaugurated on the 10th September 1906 by Rabbi Dr. Littmann in the presence of delegations from the larger sister communities, the local authorities and council members, local religious leaders and the University of Bern. The building was designed by Eduard Rybi who, together with Ernst Salchli, also designed St. Ursula’s Church. In a handwritten letter the following day, the federal president Ludwig Forrer expressed his regret that he was unable to attend the inauguration. After the Jews had been banished from Bern in the middle ages, the first Synagogue of recent times was established in the Zeughausgasse around 1812, subsequently moved to Aarbergergasse 22 and then to Genfergasse 11 in 1855. In 1971 the Synagogue was extended with a neighboring community building.
Pictures of the Berner Synagoge: https://www.synagogues360.org/gallery/bern-synagogue/