The first establishment

The Jewish community has been established in Amsterdam since 1600. Contrary to many other European countries, the Jews in the Netherlands were free to practice their religion. The first synagogues could be found on the former island of Vlooyenburg, where the Stopera (city hall and opera) is presently located.

 

Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish Historical Museum), 1989. Photo: City Archive Amsterdam

The Grote Synagoge (The Great Synagogue)

It was in the second half of the 17th century that the growing community decided to build the Grote Synagoge, located at the corner of the present-day Nieuwe Amstelstraat (street) and the Jonas Daniël Meijerplein (square). The design in the style of the Dutch Classicism is supposedly the work of urban architect Daniël Stalpaert (1615-1676). The mikwe, the ritual bath, could be found in the entrance that was added on later.

 

Former "New Synogogue" with skylight, now part of the Jewish Historical Museum

Expansion

Due to the increasing demand for more space for prayer and gatherings, a second synagogue, the Obenne Sjoel, was inaugurated above the then meat hall, where kosher (ritually approved) meat was prepared. The term sjoel is derived from the German word Schule = school. The third synagogue, the Dritt Sjoel, offered space for classrooms for the purpose of studying Jewish principles. The Nieuwe Synagoge, with its elegant skylight by architect G.F. Maybaum, was the fourth synagogue to be built.

 

Current interior of the Jewish Historical Museum. Photo: City Archive Amsterdam

Decline and a new beginning

The use of these synagogues had gradually declined since the 1920s. Many Jews left the Jewish neighbourhood and moved to Amsterdam East or South. The hardest blow however, resulted from the persecution of the Jews during the Second World War. The synagogues were completely looted and the community was decimated. It wasn’t until 1987 with the establishment of the Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish Historical Museum) that the buildings were once again used for Jewish purposes.