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Jewish Heritage Travel 2023, Summer Vacation in Alsace, France

Program Overview

The Jewish history of Alsace and the Rhineland is both tragic and triumphant. The area was the focus of the massacres of the First Crusade in 1096 as well as the center of a flourishing culture. Here Jews were oppressed and persecuted throughout the centuries. And here they thrived and created the foundation of Ashkenazi Jewish life.

Jews have lived in Frankfurt continuously for nearly 900 years, longer than in any other German city, but most likely since the court of Charlemagne as well as when the Romans were there. They worked as merchants, bankers, politicians, philanthropists, artists, and scientists. Our trip will begin in Frankfurt, where we will learn about Mayer Amschel Rothschild (progenitor of the Rothschild dynasty), artist Moritz Oppenheim, and philosophers Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig. Moving on to Worms, we will visit the site of the yeshiva where the legendary “teacher of all Israel,” Rabbi Solomon Yitzchaki—known popularly as Rashi—studied, the ancient (1034) synagogue, and the haunting medieval cemetery.

Traveling westward, we will go deeper into Alsace, home to a hundred Jewish settlements in the villages and towns surrounding Strasbourg. In these villages, almost all bereft of their Jewish population, are magnificent synagogues and museums that preserve the unique traditions of Ashkenaz. We will find Strasbourg to be vital and lively, filled with an array of Jewish communal institutions, including a synagogue that is a center for Ashkenazic as well as Sephardic Jews. Its historic city center was classified as a World Heritage Site, and it has functioned as a bridge between French and German culture and as a living testament to the possible coexistence of Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and Jews.

We invite you to join us on this fascinating and informative exploration of the birthplace of Ashkenazi Jewry!

Monday, October 25

Arrive in Frankfurt, located on the Main River, known to be Germany’s oldest Jewish settlement. Check in to our deluxe hotel and rest and relax.

Evening: Introduction by our scholar in residence, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, The First Crusade and the Decimation of the Jewish Rhineland, followed by an opportunity to get to know one another and opening dinner at our hotel (included).

Tuesday, October 26

Our morning will start with a walk to the Jewish Museum of Frankfurt, housed in what once was the “Rothschild Palais,” for a private guided tour. In 1987, when the city of Frankfurt began constructing a building for the public utilities company, workers discovered foundations of houses from the city’s former Jewish quarter, the Judengasse. After considerable protest, parts of the archaeological excavations were reconstructed and made accessible to the public as a museum, so that the museum, the old Jewish cemetery, and the memorial to the deported Jews of Frankfurt are now visible as a historical ensemble. Additionally, we will visit the nearby Judengasse Museum, which illustrates 300 years of everyday life of Frankfurt’s Jews.

Evening lecture by Chaim Seidler-Feller, Ashkenazic Pietists and Their Mystical-Ascetic Theology, followed by dinner on our own

The small Mainz synagogue, part of the post–World War II Mainz Jewish Community Center, is an architectural gem.
Wednesday, October 27

Today we will visit Mainz, hometown of the first printer of the Bible, Johann Gutenberg, and an important center of rabbinical scholarship during the Middle Ages. This attractive town on the Rhine was home to Rabbi Jacob ben Moses Moellin (the Maharil), spiritual leader of the Jews of Germany, Austria, and Bohemia, as well as of the eminent Kalonymus dynasty of rabbis. The small Mainz synagogue, part of the post–World War II Mainz Jewish Community Center, is an architectural gem. Its ark contains three Torah scrolls that survived Kristallnacht. The Mainz Regional Museum, which we will visit, displays several 12th-century Jewish tombstones, including that of Gershom ben Judah (d. 1049), who was commonly known to scholars of Judaism by the title Rabbeinu Gershom Me’Or Hagolah (“Our teacher Gershom the light of the exile”). Additionally, we will visit Mainz’s Saint Stephen’s Church, which contains Germany’s only stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall.

Evening lecture by Chaim Seidler-Feller, The Napoleonic Sanhedrin and the Assimilation of French Jewry, followed by dinner on our own.

Home of Johannes Gutenberg (~1398–February 3, 1468), the inventor of a movable-type printing press, and maker of the first printed bible.
Thursday, October 28

We will begin this morning with a tour of Frankfurt’s Altstadt (Old Town), where many historical buildings surround the square, including the city hall (Römer). Römerberg was reconstructed after World War II and gives visitors an idea of the beauty and character of the area from the time of the Middle Ages. Following a break for lunch on our own in Old Town, we will continue on to the West End Synagogue for a tour and to meet members of the Jewish community. The West End Synagogue is the only synagogue to have survived Kristallnacht.

Following lunch (included), we will visit the Städel Museum for a private guided tour. This museum contains one of the most important art collections in Germany, including works by such Old Masters as Jan van Eyck, Rembrandt, and Botticelli; modern art by Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, and Edgar Degas, among others; and contemporary art by Francis Bacon, Yves Klein, and Jeff Wall. Notable Jewish artists’ works at the museum include paintings by Max Liebermann and Lotte Laserstein.

Worms’ Jewish cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in Europe.
Friday, October 29
Worms | Baden-Baden

Morning departure from Frankfurt for Worms, one of the leading centers of Jewish life in the Rhineland. Upon arrival in Worms, we will visit a synagogue that dates back to the early 11th century; and Rashi House (today a museum, named after Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 11th-century author of the most important comprehensive commentary on the Talmud and Torah) as well as the Worms Jewish cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in Europe.

Following a break for lunch (included), we will head to Baden-Baden. Nestled in a beautiful landscape along the border of the Black Forest, this elegant, international, world-famous spa town is the perfect place to enjoy art and culture, as well as the museums of the “Cultural Mile” and the elegant boutiques in “Old Town” and shops along the historic Kurhaus Colonnade. In Baden-Baden, we will check in to Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa in time to rest and relax before Shabbat dinner (included).

Museum Frieder Burda — its architecture and design are renowned for its natural light and elegant layout.
Saturday, October 30

Morning: Visit the Baden-Baden synagogue, followed by a private guided tour of the Museum Frieder Burda, where we will focus on German Jewish Expressionist artists. The museum, designed by renowned New York celebrity architect Richard Meier, is a sparkling jewel in Baden-Baden. Its architecture and design, renowned for its natural light and elegant layout, is truly unique—much like the collection itself, which contains a number of old masterpieces.

Afternoon: Free to enjoy the spa, shop, or visit sites of interest on our own.

Evening: Free; dinner on our own.

Strasbourg, as with much of Alsace, brims with contrasts between French and German influences.
Sunday, October 31

Depart Baden-Baden for Strasbourg, a city of contrasts. The language is French, but the architecture, food, and wine are overwhelmingly German. Cities and towns all over Alsace have German names, and many streets are a French-German hybrid—for example, rue Unter den Linden. Here the clash of history is evident everywhere because over the centuries, Alsace changed from French to German hands and back again many times.

Along our journey to Strasbourg, we will visit towns and synagogues in Haguenau, Pfaffenhofen (its recently restored synagogue is now designated as a national monument) and Bouxwiller. In Bouxwiller, we will visit the old synagogue saved from demolition, and the Judeo-Alsatian museum, dedicated to the culture and art of Judaism in Alsace. After lunch (included), we will continue to Strasbourg and check in to the Régent Petite France Hotel, our base for the remainder of the tour. Dinner (included).

Monday, November 1
Colmar | Strasbourg

Morning visit to Colmar, with its painted and carved old houses, one of the loveliest towns in Alsace. In Colmar, tour the Bartholdi (architect and sculptor of the Statue of Liberty) Museum, and view the famous Ingelsheim triptych altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald, located in the Musée Unterlinden. Lunch on our own in Colmar.
Return to Strasbourg; remainder of the day free.

Evening lecture by Chaim Seidler-Feller, Rashi and the Emergence of a Talmudic (or Jewish Learning) Culture in Ashkenaz, following by a festive closing dinner.

Tuesday, November 2

Strasbourg is today home to some 16,000 Jews and an important place for us to visit as we explore the province’s rich Jewish history. The rue des Juifs (street of the Jews), over 1,600 years old, was the Roman east–west road and the heart of the old Jewish quarter and is one of Strasbourg’s oldest streets.

Our morning will begin with a walking tour of La Petite France, the most picturesque district of old Strasbourg, a “haven of peace” in the heart of the Old City. After lunch on our own in La Petite France, we will visit the Notre Dame Cathedral, with statues of Synagoga and Ecclesia and Jewish tombstones dating back to the 10th century in the Musée de l’Oeuvre nearby.

This arched doorway, once the entrance to a synagogue that dates back to 1454, is among the traces of the old Jewish community.
Wednesday, November 3
Struthof | Benfeld | Obernai

We will begin today by traveling south to Struthof, where we will visit the European Centre on Resistance and Deportation. Site of the former Natzweiler-Struthof camp, it is an important place of remembrance for all those murdered by the Nazis. Lunch (included) along the way before visiting the small towns of Benfeld and Obernai, with their charming synagogues.

In Obernai, a fascinating tourist town, traces of the old Jewish community can still be seen. For example, on ruelle des Juifs, an arched doorway with an engraving in Hebrew signals the entrance to the old synagogue, dating to 1454; and on rue du Général-Gouraud, an arch bears the Hebrew date 5456 (1696 C.E.), as well as an illustration of two blessing hands carved in stone with the inscription “The master, Rabbi Samson, the Cohen.” Along the walls of the synagogue are vestiges of a Jewish community house built circa 1750 with traces of the Holy Ark and altar with hammered lilies that recall how the French kings protected the Jews of Alsace. When the old synagogue became too small, it was deconsecrated in 1876 and replaced by a neo-Romanesque edifice that is still in use today.

Evening lecture by Chaim Seidler-Feller, A Jewish Revival in Early 20th-Century Germany: Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, and the Frankfurt Jewish Lehrhaus, followed by dinner on our own.

Thursday, November 4

Morning:  Guided visit to the Alsatian Museum of Strasbourg. The museum provides a charming tour of old Strasbourg homes connected by wooden staircases and passageways. It presents thousands of objects that illustrate rural life in Alsace in the 18th and 19th centuries, including rooms devoted to Judaism.

Afternoon free for personal sites of interest and/or last minute shopping.

Closing festive dinner (included)

Friday, November 5

Depart for home

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