A global compilation for the Jewish culture vulture

A list of must-visit Jewish sites around the world.

Fields of Bitronot Ruhama (photo credit: CHRIS SNELLING CC BY-SA 3.0 WIKIMEDIA)
Fields of Bitronot Ruhama
India, Kochi, synagogue
Kochi, located in southern India’s idyllic Kerala state, boasts the oldest active synagogue in the Commonwealth – the Paradesi Synagogue.
The Jewish community of Cochin built the synagogue in 1568; the Portuguese destroyed it in 1662, but the Dutch reconstructed it two years later.
Today it serves a tiny community in the quarter of Old Cochin known as Jew Town, whose streets are lined with shops selling Judaica. The “no hassle” signs hanging in front of the shops do not live up to their promise – shopping here is no different from the typical shopping and bartering experience for tourists elsewhere in India.
The synagogue’s most notable features are its grand chandeliers and the hand-painted, blue, willow-patterned ceramic floor tiles. Only a handful of Jews remain in Fort Kochin, but a minyan is sometimes made with visitors from out of town.
Kochi's Paradesi Synagogue features grand chandeliers and hand-painted, blue willow-patterned ceramic floor tiles. (photo credit: WOUTER HAGENS/WIKIMEDIA)Kochi's Paradesi Synagogue features grand chandeliers and hand-painted, blue willow-patterned ceramic floor tiles. (photo credit: WOUTER HAGENS/WIKIMEDIA)
The Netherlands, Amsterdam, Anne Frank
Just as The Diary of Anne Frank is a must-read of Jewish literature, her house is a must-see. Visitors can tread the very floors the Holocaust heroine described so vividly in her compelling diary, reviving her experiences through a physical dimension rather than solely through literature.
After World War II, the secret annex where Frank and her family hid during the Holocaust was set to be demolished.
But a campaign to preserve it led to the establishment of the Anne Frank Foundation.
Visitors can see the original diary at the museum and read excerpts of it while standing in the spaces where they were written, as they relive the story of the eight people who lived there, those who helped them, and how they were eventually, tragically discovered.
Anne Frank House (photo credit: REUTERS)Anne Frank House (photo credit: REUTERS)
South Africa, Cape Town, the Gardens Shul
Founded in 1841, the Gardens Shul is the oldest congregation in South Africa and one of the oldest in the entire Southern Hemisphere. Known as the “Mother Synagogue of South Africa,” the congregation hosts many events and celebrations. The original shul, built in 1863, now serves as the entrance to the South African Jewish Museum, while the Great Synagogue – built in 1905 – functions as a house of prayer.
The museum was opened by Nelson Mandela in 2000 and documents the history of the South African Jewish community, starting from its roots - many in Eastern Europe – through to the present day. The synagogue and museum stand on a campus where one can also find the Cape Town Holocaust Center, the Jacob Gitlin Library, the Nelson Mandela Auditorium and the Samson Center, which houses various communal organizations.
Austria, Vienna, Sigmund Freud Museum
If you’re planning a trip to the beautiful and culture-filled Austrian capital, be sure to stop in at the former apartment and practice of one of the most famous psychologists in the world – the Jewish founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.
Home to Europe’s largest psychoanalysis library, visitors to Berggasse 19 can view the original furniture used by Freud and his youngest daughter, psychoanalyst Anna Freud, the waiting room and a selection from Freud’s private collection of antiques, autographs and first editions of his works. Visitors are also shown historic films from the private life of Freud and his family, compiled by Anna Freud.
At Vienna's Sigmund Freud Museum (photo credit: GRYFFINDOR CC BY-SA 3.0 VIA WIKIMEDIA)At Vienna's Sigmund Freud Museum (photo credit: GRYFFINDOR CC BY-SA 3.0 VIA WIKIMEDIA)
Poland, Auschwitz
Auschwitz-Birkenau has become the symbol of the horrors of the Holocaust.
Built by the Nazis in 1940, over 1.1 million men, women and children perished in what was the largest concentration camp. With the number of remaining Holocaust survivors rapidly dwindling, the Auschwitz museum now stands as a stark reminder of what mankind is capable of, as well as serving as a memorial site to all those who were brutally murdered there.
Visitors may tour the grounds and learn how the “death factory” operated, from the ominous railway tracks, by which thousands of the Nazis’ victims were transported to the camp, to the unloading platform, the prisoner barracks, the ruins of the gas chambers and the crematoria.
Uzbekistan, Bukhara, Jewish cemetery
In Bukhara resides the remains of one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities.
Although once it was a center of Jewish life, today only about 150 Jews remain in Bukhara. But signs of Jewish life and culture are still very much present in the Jewish Quarter, known as the “Old Mahalla,” signs ranging from a local Jewish school to synagogues to the immaculately preserved Jewish cemetery.
There are more than 10,000 graves in the cemetery, which is divided into sectors. Most of the tombstones have a post-Soviet-style design, black with large gray portraits of the deceased etched into the granite. With mass Jewish immigration to Israel and the US, many worry that soon these Jewish sites will be the only marks left of the once-thriving Silk Road city’s Jewish community.
Spain, Córdoba’s old Jewish Quarter
Spain is a treasure chest of Jewish history, and Córdoba’s narrow, winding streets make for a charming trip down memory lane, right back to the second century. Until the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the Jews of Córdoba were a thriving part of the city, the most famous figure being the great philosopher Maimonides, of whom a statue stands in Plaza Maimonides.
Other sites of interest in the Jewish Quarter, declared a UNESCO world heritage site, include a synagogue that has been restored after being converted into a church in the 16th century. It’s one of just three remaining original synagogues in the entire country. Another highlight of the quarter is Casa de Sefarad, a museum that comprises five exhibition rooms filled with items pertaining to Sephardi communities that settled in various countries in the Mediterranean.
Canada, Montreal Jewish Food Tour
If food is the way to your heart, then the Beyond the Bagel – Montreal Jewish Food Tour is for you. The Museum of Jewish Montreal invites foodies to eat their way through historic Jewish neighborhoods, on walking tours guided by museum staff.
Encouraging participants to come with healthy appetites, the tour – which is curated by Montreal Jewish food historian Kat Romanow – takes visitors through Montreal’s Mile End and Plateau neighborhoods.
Tour members will munch on iconic classics, as well as sample largely forgotten delicacies in backyards and alleyways – and each bite is accompanied by a story about the city’s Jewish past.
Australia, the Sydney Jewish Museum
The Sydney Jewish Museum takes its visitors on a journey through the history of the Jewish people of Australia. It is housed in the Maccabean Hall, built to commemorate Jewish men and women from New South Wales who served in World War I. Permanent exhibitions explore Jewish history from its biblical origin in the Ancient Near East to the thriving Jewish community in Australia, the Jewish involvement in Australian military history, the Holocaust and the new lives forged by survivors in Australia.
Three memorials are also located at the museum: the Sanctum of Remembrance, which offers the opportunity to honor deceased loved ones by endowing plaques in the sanctum; the Children’s Memorial, which commemorates the lives of 1.5 million children who perished during the Holocaust; and the War Memorial Forecourt, whose walls are inscribed with the names of nearly 3,000 Jewish servicemen, including 177 who gave their lives in the service of Australia in the two world wars.