Jewish life in Switzerland is characterised by diversity. It is made up of numerous, highly diverse communities with a broad range of cultural offers and events, as well as groups and individuals with very different attitudes towards life.

There are roughly 18,000 Jews living in Switzerland today, accounting for just over 0.2% of the Swiss population. The Jewish community may constitute a small minority in this country, but it is a highly diverse minority. Within this overall community, there are subgroups whose attitude and lifestyle differ greatly. Whereas members of religious communities strictly adhere to the laws of Judaism, members of unified communities («Einheitsgemeinden») or liberal communities are less strict in their observance, or do without such religious rules entirely.

Jonathan Schächter, Moderator, 1. März 1982, Zürich
Jonathan Schächter, television host, March 1, 1982, Zurich

«Football is my favorite sport. For the past year and a half, I have moderated a football talk show on television. Ever since, the game has become the center of my life.»

From the exhibition «Swiss Jews: 150 Years of Equal Rights»

Various branches of Swiss Judaism

Judaism in Switzerland, as in other countries, consists of various branches, which offer different interpretations of Jewish rules and laws. This means there is no single or uniform Judaism, but a broad spectrum of different practices. At one end of this spectrum we have the strictly observant communities who follow an orthodox or strict orthodox lifestyle. Their everyday life is clearly regulated by Jewish law, or «Halakha». At the other end, there are the liberal communities. Their members are free to decide whether and to what extent they wish to adhere to Jewish law and customs. Between the two we have the unified communities («Einheitsgemeinden») such as the «Israelitische Cultusgemeinde Zürich» , the «Communauté Israélite de Genève» and the «Israeltische Gemeinde Basel» , which are also the three Jewish communities with the largest number of members in Switzerland. They observe Jewish law, Halakha, but are also open to all other religious and cultural forms of Judaism. How strictly Jewish law is observed varies greatly within the unified communities, from a modern Orthodox way of life to a lifestyle without any adherence to Halakha.

Ruth Dreifuss, former Swiss president and cabinet minister, January 9, 1940, Geneva

«I see my election to the Federal Council in 1993 as proof that religious affiliation no longer plays the role in Switzerland that it had a few years earlier. Nevertheless, there are still people in Switzerland who have misconceptions about Jews, often unconsciously.»

From the exhibition «Swiss Jews: 150 Years of Equal Rights»

Jewish culture in Switzerland

Jewish culture on offer in Switzerland reaches far beyond the Jewish communities. It includes well-known events such as the Yesh! film festival with a focus on Jewish productions and institutions such as the Jewish Museum of Switzerland in Basel. There are also numerous small-scale cultural events, public debates on topical issues, and libraries with specific Jewish content. Most of these offers are directed at both the Jewish community and the public at large. The SIG is currently also pursuing new projects on historic themes, such as the planned visitors’ center of the «Doppeltür » association highlighting the unique history of the Surbtaler Jews, and a small museum around the valuable historic wall painting at Brunngasse 8 in Zurich. These and similar projects are meant to raise awareness of Switzerland’s Jewish cultural heritage, little of which has been known to the general public until recently.

David Goldblum, senior physician at the University Hospital of Basel, July 5, 1970, Basel

«My work at the university hospital is intense. I am in the operating room every day of the week and at all times of the day when I need to be. But I don’t work on the Jewish High Holidays. This has nothing to do with religion. I’m secular. It’s more a question of being together with my family and being aware of my own heritage, both of which I cherish.»

From the exhibition «Swiss Jews: 150 Years of Equal Rights»

The SIG as the Jewish communities’ umbrella organisation

As the umbrella organisation of 16 Jewish communities in Switzerland, the SIG represents Jewish interests towards the general public and various bodies and organisations. It serves as a point of contact for politicians and media representatives in matters of Jewish life in Switzerland, and aims to highlight the diversity of Jewish life and culture. Core tasks include raising awareness of aspects of Jewish history as well as preserving and fostering Jewish culture in this country.

Swiss Jews: 150 Years of Equal Rights

To mark this anniversary, the SIG launched a travelling exhibition. The portraits of 15 Jews reflect their affiliation to Switzerland today.

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