To mark the 150th anniversary of the granting of equal rights to Jews in Switzerland, the SIG launched a travelling exhibition. The portraits of 15 Jews are meant to reflect that Jews today are an inherent part of Swiss society. 

In 1866 the Jewish community in Switzerland was officially recognised as a national minority, by which the Jews living in this country gained the same rights as other Swiss citizens. The SIG organised a series of events to mark this occasion, including a photo exhibition entitled «Swiss Jews: 150 Years of Equal Rights». For this exhibition, the renowned Bernese photographer Alexander Jaquemet portrayed 15 selected Jewish personalities in their everyday life. The selection is meant to reflect the diversity among Jews living in Switzerland. It also shows that Jews today are an inherent part of Swiss society. The exhibition toured Switzerland in 2017 and 2018.

Vera Rottenberg, former supreme court justice

August 15, 1944, Zollikon

Emancipation, the advent of equal rights, paved the way for me as a Jewish woman in two ways. When I was born in Budapest in 1944, I had no rights of any kind. Only after our escape to Switzerland, where Jews had legal equality, did the state-decreed and readily practiced discrimination against me cease. We were rescued by Swiss diplomat Harald Feller, who organized our escape from Budapest through Vienna to Switzerland, my mother’s country of birth. Growing up in St. Gallen in the 1950s and 1960s, I did not experience government discrimination. Nevertheless, I developed a great sensitivity to all forms of injustice I perceived in my surroundings. So it was no surprise that I chose to study law. My career in the Swiss judicial system, however, would not have been possible without the expansion of voting rights in 1971 and the emancipation of women. This emancipation also had an impact on my life and established the prerequisites that allowed me to become a judge. I spent my entire working life in the courts of this country, including eighteen years on the Federal Supreme Court in Lausanne, and was passionately involved in shaping jurisprudence in Switzerland.

Jean Paul René Lob (J. P. Love), entertainer

Age: “depends on how I’m feeling", Bern

When the lights go on and the camera starts rolling, I am in my element. Then Jean Paul Lob becomes the cult figure J. P. Love: I am a party singer, talk show host, erotic star, and much more, depending on the role I slip into. J. P. Love is a polarizing figure. Sometimes, I think that people envy me. I do precisely what other people would like to do. I once lived a normal middle-class life myself. I was a banker and worked as the senior foreign currency broker at a renowned financial institution. Later, I happened into adult entertainment. I love to cross-dress. So I became the first Jewish erotic star in Switzerland, known throughout the country with my own television show. My heritage is not an issue in the entertainment business, and the Jewish community welcomes me with open arms, because I have deep cultural roots. Perhaps it is because of these Jewish roots that I stand up for minorities, for transgender people and for homosexuals. One hundred fifty years of emancipation—Jews are not the only ones who need equal rights.

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. What I find fascinating is that individual ability is just as necessary as teamwork. A team is only successful when everyone works together. And nevertheless, a single person can make the difference—just like in real life. Most Jews in Zurich used to be ardent FCZ fans, since city rival GC barred Jews from becoming members into the 1950s. These times are long gone, and GC has worked hard in recent years to improve its image. GC was the first club to sign an Israeli player. No other sport has done more to combat xenophobia than football, and no sport brings people together like football does. Look at the Swiss national team. In terms of integration and assimilation these young Swiss, whose parents come from a wide variety of countries, serve as role models for the entire nation. Many older Swiss men and women could learn a thing or two about hard work and dedication to our country from the children of immigrants.

Marc Bloch, retired agro-businessman (coffee)

March 6, 1950, La Chaux-de-Fonds

La Chaux-de-Fonds, this extraordinary and unique city, attracted many immigrants at the end of the nineteenth century, including a number of Jews from Alsatia and Germany, and later from Russia and Poland. They played an important role in the city’s development by helping to establish and expand the local watch industry. To name just a few Jewish firms: Movado (the Ditesheim family), Invicta (Maurice Picard), and Ebel (Eugène Blum). Other families were involved in the retail business, such as the Blochs with their store Au Printemps. Not to forget Georges Braunschweig, who founded the famous Club 44, a cultural center that still contributes to the city’s cosmopolitanism and dynamism. It is important to remember that initially Jews did not have equal rights. Only when the theocratic state gave way to the modern world did religious freedom emerge. We have to defend this freedom. I was born eighty-four years after these rights were recognized, and I admit that I have always taken them for granted. The anniversary this year is important because it reminds not only Jews, but other minorities, such as people of color, homosexuals, and foreigners, that it takes time and patience to be recognized as normal citizens.

David Goldblum, senior physician at the University Hospital of Basel

July 5, 1970, Basel

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a doctor and help heal other human beings. I became a physician and an eye specialist. In our visually oriented world, the eye is one of our most precious organs. 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. My father was born in Poland and was raised orthodox. He came to Switzerland as a refugee after the war. I am grateful to Switzerland, my homeland, with its humanitarian traditions, for taking him in. Immigrants of various backgrounds and religions have found refuge here and have made crucial contributions to Switzerland’s success. So I cannot understand why so many citizens are afraid of immigrants and do not recognize the potential they embody.

Talia Wigger, PhD. candidate in law

January 5, 1988, Geneva

Strolling through a flea market is a form of self-observation: So many objects, each with its own long journey. They’re like the history of my family. My mother is Israeli, a Sabra, whose parents came from Yemen. My father is German-Swiss and Christian, a sixteenthgeneration direct descendant of Brother Klaus. This mixture might appear confusing if you don’t look at it closely. As a Yemeni Jew, I am a part of these atypical communities: as a Sephardi, I enjoy giving and receiving and I show emotions. As an Ashkenazi, I am respectful and inoffensive. Sephardic Jews first came to Switzerland at the beginning of the twentieth century and brought their own customs, which were different from those of Ashkenazi Jews, who had settled in Switzerland long before. While the integration of Sephardic Jews has, in my opinion, been successful, we continue to cultivate our heritage. In my family home, you can feel the warmth, the colors, and the flavor of the Orient. But propriety teaches us to live Judaism for ourselves—and to be openly proud to be Swiss.

Ruth Dreifuss, former Swiss president and cabinet minister

January 9, 1940, Geneva

My last name is unmistakably Jewish. I relate to Judaism not so much as a religion, but as a history and culture. The history of democracy and socialism and the development of modern Switzerland have influenced me considerably. 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. There is also some confusion regarding Israel and Jews in Switzerland. Frequently Swiss Jews are held responsible for decisions of the Israeli government, a kind of “guilt by association” that I strongly reject. Today there are other groups that experience more severe marginalization and discrimination than Jews. For these minorities, especially for Muslims, the emancipation of Jews 150 years ago can serve as an inspiration and a model. Equality is never a gift, but must be fought for with the help of allies—that is one thing that the history of Jewish emancipation teaches us.

Martin Mürner, horn player and restorer

September 22, 1958, Bern

I am a Jewish alphorn player. The “Jewish” name for this instrument is shofar gadol (great ram’s horn). Like many traditional Jews I play the shofar every morning during the month of Elul, before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This is supposed to awaken us and get us ready for a new beginning. The alphorn arouses emotions, and since it is much longer than the shofar, it can play melodies. Our alphorn quartet performs traditional Swiss folk songs, pieces we have arranged and composed ourselves, as well as modern and experimental music, including jazz. We also play Jewish melodies using alphorns of various lengths. I enjoy mixing styles and traditions: rural and urban, old and modern, Swiss and Jewish (this is somewhat provocative). I always start with the original version. As an orchestra musician, which is my principle line of work, I play on instruments appropriate to the epoch and heritage of each piece. The original sheet music is key to an inspired interpretation. I greatly appreciate that Jews, since time immemorial, read the Torah in its original form. Only thereafter do we look at its various interpretations. My one wish is that Judaism would be more open to the modern world, especially to gender equality.

Edna Epelbaum, cinema owner

July 4, 1972, Biel

When I was three years old, I saw “Heidi” with Heinrich Gretler as Alp-Oehi. I entered the dark movie theater holding my mother’s hand and was immediately absorbed in the story. I fevered, laughed, and trembled. This trip to the movies, which was followed by many more, aroused my passion for film. My second formative childhood memory is of Jewish traditions. Passover evening: As the youngest family member I sang "Ma Nishtana". I remember the excitement, the smell of the traditional dishes, the grape juice in my glass, which captured the wonderful, celebratory mood, a mood that shapes my Jewish identity today. Passover and Heidi—for me, cinema and Judaism are tied to notions of home and tradition. Keeping traditions alive means connecting the old and the new. Negotiating different stories, various ways of life, and multiple perspectives on the screen and in reality—specifically growing up as part of a minority in Switzerland—have taught me to look beyond borders. You can only really understand your own history if you understand the history of others. Film and Judaism conjure up visions of a positive future and convey the hope that they will become reality.

Joel Basman, actor and fashion designer

January 23, 1990, Zurich

The fabrics, the colors, the designs, and the clothes: my studio is my home. I design men’s fashion. My parents taught me everything I know about the art of tailoring, and for that I am grateful to them. My mother was raised in a Catholic family in Sursee, my father in a Jewish family in Petah Tikva in Israel. In Sursee and Petah Tikva, religion is strongly present. Although it plays no significant role in my perception of other people, I notice how others classify people in terms of religion. In elementary school, my classmates singled me out as the “Jew,” even though I never wore a kippah or displayed my Jewishness publicly. Conversely, the Jewish community also differentiates its members according to whether or not they are strictly Jewish in terms of religious law. Identity, of course, is much more complex. I grew up bilingual, speaking German and Hebrew, which helps me today as an actor; I can pick up dialects and foreign languages quickly. My mixed heritage also helps me slip into new roles. Belonging to different cultures, in other words, is enriching. Given all the hatred and misunderstanding in our world, I believe that people from different backgrounds should get together and have children and watch their prejudices dissolve into thin air—it’s unrealistic, but it’s my dream.

Naomie Chriqui, entrepreneur

October 7, 1969, Zurich

For fourteen years now, my husband and I have run a falafel stand in Zurich. Sometimes tourists from Persian Gulf countries assume that my husband, a Jew with Moroccan roots, is an Arab. And because of how I look, many people ask me if I am an Israeli. I tell them “No, I’m Swiss.” My mother is originally from Holland. She didn’t tell me that she was Jewish until I was sixteen. Today I know why: She survived World War II as a Jewish child only because she went into hiding in Amsterdam. Her mother, my grandmother, was deported and murdered in Auschwitz. I met my husband on a trip to Israel. We love Switzerland, but sometimes we miss Israel’s warm-heartedness, openness, and spontaneity. Maybe that’s why our Jewish family has so many Italian-Catholic friends. The two minorities get along very well

Jules Bloch, cattle trader

July 27, 1947, Endingen

My father and grandfather were cattle traders like me. We come from Endingen, where Jews were allowed to settle earlier than in the rest of Switzerland. But even in Endingen Jews did not have equal rights. Jews were not permitted to take up conventional professions such as carpentry and masonry. So we became cattle traders. My ancestors spoke Surbtal Yiddish, with special expressions for the cattle trade. A cow is a “Bore,” and a five-franc coin is called a “Heier.” Farmers and Christian traders adopted the most important Yiddish terms. Surbtal Yiddish was as important in the cattle trade as English is today: You are lost without it in the business world. I know an old Christian master butcher who speaks the language even better than I do. I have never experienced antiSemitism, on the contrary. I have many non-Jewish friends and business partners.

Ariel Wyler, agronomist and economist

June 18, 1964, Zurich

The broad stripes on my collar give it away: I have spent quite some time in the military—probably more than three years of my life. Today I am the highest-ranking observant Jew in the Swiss army. I keep the Sabbath in my military and civic life: When the sun sets on Friday evening, I put my work to rest until the first three stars appear in the night sky on Saturday. I thank my commanding officer that I was nevertheless made an officer myself. I can confirm that Jews are one-hundred-percent equal in the Swiss army. I put on the Swiss uniform because I want to serve society and demonstrate my loyalty to the state and its institutions. Already in the Mishna, the written record of the oral Torah, we are told to pray for the well-being of our government. A constitutional state is crucial, especially for minorities, because without the rule of law power would lie in the hands of the mighty. As a Swiss Jew, I wear a kippah as confidently as I wear my uniform in the army. We Jews came to Switzerland with the Romans, long before many others arrived. We are a small, but essential part of Swiss culture.

Doris Cohen-Dumani, former chief of the Lausanne police, school principle, and member of parliament

Born in Alexandria in 1946, Lausanne

I was naturalized as a Swiss citizen in the Hôtel de Ville, the town hall of Lausanne. What an irony of fate that I later helped naturalize new Swiss citizens at the police headquarters myself! Before moving to Lausanne, I spent a happy childhood in the beautiful Egyptian port city of Alexandria. But the sudden outbreak of the Suez War in 1956 forced us, like many other Jewish families, to flee Egypt hastily and under difficult conditions. We had to leave everything behind: our extended family, which was scattered in all directions, our friends, our house, and all of our possessions. We came to Switzerland with virtually no money and with no documents, as our identification papers had been confiscated. Our arrival in Switzerland was very difficult for my parents. My brother and I had to adjust to the Vaud school system. I can remember how I had to make up two years of German classes in only fifteen days. But my experience as a refugee strengthened me and taught me how to overcome difficulties. I am grateful to Switzerland, my host country, for allowing me to realize my dreams. I am proud to have helped design an innovative solution for daycare centers in Switzerland encompassing both the state sector and the private economy. Today I am active in numerous charitable projects and am fortunate to serve my city as president of the City Management Foundation of Lausanne.

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