Explore the Swiss capital of Bern and its Jewish Community

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    Nestled in the heart of Switzerland, the capital city of Bern is a serene and picturesque gem that beckons travelers with its rich tapestry of museums, cathedrals, and historic edifices. As you stroll through the cobblestone streets of the Old Town, a place so enchanting it’s been granted UNESCO World Heritage status, you’ll be transported to a world where time seems to stand still, where a tranquil countryside ambiance mingles effortlessly with a laid-back urban atmosphere.

    Every corner of Bern seems to whisper tales of its storied past, from the enchanting red rooftops that gracefully cascade along the meandering Aare River to the embracing embrace of the surrounding hills. At every turn, Bern enchants and captivates, making it inconceivable to fathom another capital city surpassing its serene charm.

    Bern stands as a testament to Switzerland’s unparalleled beauty, undoubtedly one of the primary reasons you chose this country as one of the world’s most exquisite destinations.

    After climbing 130 stairs to the Clock Tower, visitors are rewarded with a stunning panorama over the Bern-New York Jewish Travel Guide

    Overview of Bern’s Jewish History

    Jews have lived in Bern since at least the Middle Ages. Until the 19th century, few Jews were able to live or work in the canton because of their expulsion and persecution during and after the Black Death epidemic. Jews from Alsace issued the “Corporation of Israelites of the City of Bern” in 1848, which was later renamed Jüdische Gemeinde Bern (Jewish Community of Bern), and they settled there.

    The growing community was able to open its Moorish/Oriental-style synagogue in 1906. Around 1910, there were roughly 1,000 Jews living in the area; many came from Eastern Europe, including Russian students. The Jewish Community of Bern, or JGB, commemorated its 150th anniversary in 1998. The community is well-integrated into society and has been present in the city for 10 years with the “Jewish College,” a series of lectures on Jewish topics. The most famous Jewish student from Russia was Anna Tumarkin, who became the first woman to teach at the University of Bern and to serve in the Senate of a university in Europe. Albert Einstein wrote his theory of relativity from his residence in the historic part of Bern. It wasn’t until 1995 that the canton recognized that the Jewish religious community had the same legal status as the local churches. Today, approximately 340 people make up the community. The Jüdische Gemeinde Bern describes itself as being “open and tolerant towards all Jewish religious orientations” in its mission statement.

    The current Community Center and its Moorish Synagogue

    The Bern Synagogue-New York Jewish Travel Guide

    Since 2017, Rabbi Michael Kohn, a native of Norway, has been serving as the community rabbi at the synagogue in Bern. Under his leadership, the synagogue’s community has thrived, boasting a membership of 340 individuals along with a steady stream of between 50 and 150 guests who are not members.

    Shabbat services at the synagogue draw a diverse audience, with a particular emphasis on the younger generation. Among the attendees, 20% identify as Orthodox, while 5% consider themselves secular. Interestingly, the synagogue receives numerous daily requests from non-Jews interested in converting, yet its membership has remained stable over the years. This is the demanding conversion procedure supervised by the Geneva-based Beth Din, which usually needs two to three years of intense study to meet its standards.

    Mixed marriages are a prevalent aspect of Bern’s cultural landscape, comprising over 70% of weddings in the city. While the synagogue doesn’t have an official school or kindergarten, it does provide valuable educational opportunities. In addition to once-weekly learning sessions, forty students between the ages of 7 and 15 take online courses. Additionally, the community offers a Jewish summer sleepaway camp for children aged 6 to 16, held outside of Bern.

    Ensuring the availability of kosher food options is a priority for the community, and they provide members with a comprehensive list of supermarket-sourced kosher products. Following Shabbat services, attendees come together for a kiddush and social interactions. The community also fosters intellectual and cultural engagement through activities like shiurim (religious lectures) and cultural gatherings like Salon Sefer, a reading group. Furthermore, they offer support to members during significant life events, including an average of four bar or bat mitzvahs per year and one wedding annually. This synagogue in Bern stands as a vibrant hub of Jewish life and culture in the heart of Switzerland.

    Rabbi Michael Kohn, the Bern Synagogue, New York Jewish Travel Guide

    The community extends its support to members during significant life events, such as celebrating an average of four bar or bat mitzvahs each year and one wedding annually. In essence, this synagogue in Bern stands as a thriving and dynamic center of Jewish life and culture, enriching the heart of Switzerland with its vibrant traditions and strong sense of community.

    Exploring the Treasures of Bern: Must-See Attractions

    Wander through the enchanting old town.

    The Old Town of Bern, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site since 1983, offers a captivating journey back in time. With its meticulously preserved medieval city center, it boasts more than just historic charm. It’s where the first Lindt chocolate factory tantalized taste buds, where legends of bears come to life (alongside real, live bears), and where Einstein’s most famous published work took shape. The cobblestone streets wind through a maze of covered arcade sidewalks, stretching for miles and boasting one of Europe’s longest-covered shopping promenades. Under the upper-level apartments, you’ll discover a treasure trove of shops, cafés, bookstores, and restaurants, making it a truly immersive experience.

    Admire the Storied Clock Tower

    The 800-year-old Clock Tower, known as Zytglogge, is an iconic symbol of Bern. Its name translates to “time bell,” and it lives up to that name beautifully. Every hour, a gilded figure atop this medieval masterpiece strikes a 3,000-pound bronze bell with a golden hammer, marking the passage of time. Beginning three minutes before each hour, a delightful cast of mechanical characters (including The Fool, The Knight, The Rooster, and The Piper, among others) emerges to perform a whimsical show. For those seeking a deeper connection to history, the tower’s interior reveals its enduring popularity through the well-worn stone steps, offering an opportunity to ascend into the past.

    Bern’s Old Town and the Clock Tower beckon with a blend of history, culture, and delightful surprises, promising an unforgettable journey through time in this enchanting Swiss city.

    Explore the City of Albert Einstein

    Delve into the world of one of the greatest minds in history by visiting Albert Einstein’s city of discovery, Bern. This is where the brilliant physicist resided when he unveiled and published his groundbreaking Theory of Relativity. While in Bern, be sure to immerse yourself in the following Einstein-related experiences:

    Einstein Museum: An Interactive Journey

    The Einstein Museum stands as a prominent attraction and a captivating tribute to the genius himself. It’s a must-visit for those seeking to unravel the mysteries of his groundbreaking work. However, if time is limited, don’t miss the opportunity to explore the Einstein Café located underneath. This unique establishment combines the ambiance of a coffee shop, a cigar lounge, and a modern hangout. Here, you can even savor an Einstein-inspired beer while contemplating the profound ideas that once flowed through the mind of this scientific luminary.

    Discover Bern’s 6-Kilometer Arcade Network

    Bern boasts an extraordinary feature that sets it apart—the intricate network of arcades lining its streets. Stretching an impressive 6 kilometers, these covered shopping promenades are among the longest in all of Europe. These four miles of hidden stores are more than just a surface-level attraction. Nestled within the baroque buildings, they create a captivating labyrinth of shops, boutiques, and surprises waiting to be uncovered.

    As you traverse the city’s arcades and explore its Einstein-related landmarks, you’ll embark on a journey through the realms of science, culture, and history, making your visit to Bern a truly enriching experience.

    Bern’s Ancient fountains-New York Jewish Travel Guide





















    Explore Bern’s Rich Heritage: Fountains and the Beloved Bears

    Ancient Fountains: Windows to the Past

    As you wander through the historic Old Town of Bern, be sure to pause and admire the ancient public fountains that grace the city’s streets. Dating back to the 16th century, these fountains are not just sources of water but also monuments of art and history. Each fountain is crowned with statues depicting various ideas or biblical scenes, such as the powerful imagery of Samson defeating a lion. Others pay homage to the strength and significance of Bern itself, like the Zähringerbrunnen, featuring a bear adorned in full armor, or the Läuferbrunnen, which portrays a runner.

    Meet the Bern Bears: An Endearing City Symbol

    Bears hold a special place in the heart of Bern, serving as an enduring symbol of the city. You’ll find these beloved creatures depicted on murals, flags, fountain decorations, and even the Zytglogge clock tower. This fascination with bears traces its roots to a legendary tale, wherein the city’s founder was credited with being the first person to vanquish a bear, giving rise to the tradition of having live bears within the city.

    To witness these magnificent creatures up close, head to the 6,000-square-meter Bear Park located to the east of Bern. Here, three brown bears reside in a picturesque hillside setting, complete with a serene riverside pool at the base. It’s a heartwarming experience that connects you with both the city’s history and its enduring love for these remarkable animals.

    Bern’s ancient fountains and its iconic bears weave together a captivating narrative of the city’s cultural heritage, where art, history, and legends converge in the charming streets of the Swiss capital.


    Planning Your Swiss Adventure

    1. Switzerland Tourism: For comprehensive information and travel tips about Switzerland, including attractions, accommodations, and activities, you can contact Switzerland Tourism. Visit their official website at https://www.myswitzerland.com/en-us/.
    2. Fly Swiss: To book your flights and explore travel options to Switzerland, you can visit the official Swiss International Air Lines website at https://www.swiss.com/us/en/homepage.
    3. Hotel Reservations: If you’re looking to make hotel reservations, you can reach out to NH Bern The Bristol by email at nhbernthebristol@nh-hotels.com or visit their website at https://www.nh-hotels.com/.
    4. Swiss Travel System: For information on transportation options and travel passes within Switzerland, the Swiss Travel System provides valuable insights. Visit their website at https://www.mystsnet.com/en/.
    5. Story by Meyer Harroch: The travel experience and insights shared in this story were brought to you by Meyer Harroch, who contributed to the New York Jewish Travel Guide and New York Jewish Guide.com.

    The author took part in a press trip sponsored by Switzerland Tourism.



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