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For the next 400 years, Mainz attracted many Jews as trade flourished. The greatest Jewish teachers and rabbis flocked to the Rhine. Their teachings, dialogues, decisions and influence propelled Mainz and neighboring towns along the Rhine into world-wide prominence. Their fame spread, rivaling that of other post-Diaspora cities such as Baghdad. Western European – Ashkenazim or Germanic -- Judaism became centered in Mainz, breaking free of the Babylonian traditions. A Yeshiva was founded in the 10th century by Gershom ben Jehuda
Undoubtedly, the first Jews came with the Romans. However, most who relocated to Mainz came from the south of France, from Sicily and southern Italy and other southern climes, travelling along the Rhone and the Rhine as passage grew safer. A series of brilliant rabbis descending from Moses ben Kalonymus brought the Italian-Palestinian liturgical tradition to Mainz.
As early as the 10th Century, Jewish texts already looked back on many generations of settlement in ”Magenza“ – the Hebrew name for Mainz – with longing and affection. In essence, this was a golden age, as area bishops protected the Jews which resulted in increased trade and prosperity for all.
But, as elsewhere, the magic spell was broken with the first riots and pogroms attending the First Crusade in the late 11th Century. Murder, mayhem, devastation destroyed half a millennium of goodwill and trust. Eventually, the Jews returned to Mainz hoping to regain the lost ”Magenza.“ But once violated, it was never again quite the same, and a series of attempts to re-create the golden past failed as periods of cooperation and understanding repeatedly fell victim to hatred and violence. Most of the Mainz Jews who survived eventually left and resettled in Poland and Russia.
With the coming of the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th Century, the spread of French Revolutionary ideals and the Napoleonic Age, Mainz’s liberal atmosphere resulted in a significant increase in the Jewish population. Secularization, religious freedom, enfranchisement, the beginnings of industrialization, the elimination of restrictions based on religion in trade, commerce, handcrafts, contributed to 150 years of complete integration in all phases of Mainz and German life.
By the beginning of the 20th Century Mainz Jews were thoroughly established. As everywhere else in the world, the Jews here too had a broad spectrum of assimilation ranging from extreme Orthodox minimalism through increasing degrees of secularism extending from the Conservative, Liberal and Reform movements, each with its own synagogue and ”read“ on secular life. Jews were active not only in banking, finances and the bourse, money-markets and commerce, but in every aspect of civil life in the 19th Century.
With the advent of the Nazis in 1933, all this came to an end, and Mainz, too, as the rest of Germany and most of Europe, was devoured by Nazi ideology leading to the destruction of the Jews. As elsewhere in the Reich, some escaped, but far too many were attached to their beloved home and perished.
Mainz sufferedthe fate of countless German cities, not merely in terms of total devastation by bombing, but in human terms – the loss of its most devoted citizens, the civic-minded, the culture-bringers, the democratically-inclined patriots -- the Jews.
Today Mainz maintains contact with some 300 of its former Jewish citizens who survived. Every effort is made to commemorate the victims and to promote inter-faith understanding as well as to prevent repetition of circumstances that led to anti-Semitism. Every few years, most recently in 1995, 1998 and 2001, surviving Jews who were forced into exile and are living abroad are welcomed back to Mainz as honored guests of the city. A book entitled ”Magenza II“ documents the lives of those who returned for the visit in thumbnail biographies with photos, texts on memories of their time in Mainz and commentary.
Commemorative ceremonies are held annually on November 9th and 10th by the Mainz Municipal Government and the Mainz Jewish Community lest this tragedy be forgotten. January 27th is likewise commemorated in Mainz, as it is Germany-wide, recalling the liberation of Auschwitz. Many firms, private individuals and Mainz government officials actively take part in these ceremonies.
Ongoing commitment to the Jewish community includes information about the Jews and Jewish life in Mainz, the causes and development of anti-Semitism and Nazism, preventative measures currently employed to insure there is no recurrence, and various relief activities such as repair of the Theresienstadt Memorial Center following extensive flood damage in 2002.
Today the Judengasse, the ancient Jewish cemetery, the commemorative sites of the beautiful Orthodox synagogue at the Flachsmarkt Strasse as well as the central synagogue on Hindenburg Strasse which were demolished by the Nazis recall the ancient and modern history of the Jews here.
The Jewish community today employs a rabbi. There was a Jewish hospital from 1904 until the Nazis made it into an old people’s home for Jews prior to their deportation. The former hospital was destroyed by bombs and has not been replaced. Kosher groceries are obtainable. Today, some 900 Jews reside in Mainz, roughly a seventh of the number who once lived here.Most of the Jews are from Eastern Europe and their migration to Mainz following German reunification and the collapse of the Soviet Union has enabled the decimated community to continue and grow.
The new Jewish synagogue and community center, (the cornerstone of which was laid in November 2008), the profile of which is an outline of the letters of the Hebrew word ”Kadduscha,“ (meaning to sanctify or elevate or dedicate something mundane to a higher calling,) exemplifies the revivification of Jewish life in Mainz. Its unique form is ultra modern yet the individual letter components are ancient. The Sanctuary faces East towards Jerusalem and the dawning of a new day, thus symbolizing a new beginning and faith in the future.
Celebrations officially inaugurating the new building were held on September 3, 2011. Stella Schindler-Siegreich, Chairwoman of the Jewish Community, Kurt Beck, Prime Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate and Jens Beutel, Mayor of Mainz, invited guests from Germany and abroad to participate in the event. Numerous guests, Jews who used to live in Mainz, witnesses to history and members of the Jewish community took part in the celebrations. Among the visitors were also Germany`s President of the State, Christian Wulff, and Israeli Ambassador to Germany, Yoram Ben Ze’ev. Opening its doors to the public, hundreds of interested citizens of Mainz visited the new synagogue this day.
The opening ceremony started with rabbi Julian-Chaim Soussan affixing the Mesua to the main entrance of the synagogue, followed by the carrying of the tora scrolls to the prayer room. After Stella Schindler-Siegreich had welcomed the guests, Christian Wulff, Germany`s President of the State, Kurt Beck, Prime Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate, Jens Beutel, Mayor of Mainz, Charlotte Knobloch, President of Central Council of Jews in Germany, as well as Fritz Winschenk, a Jew born in Mainz in 1920, delivered their speeches.
Exactly 98 years after the inauguration of the main synagogue on September 3, 1912 and roughly 70 years after its destruction by the Nazis, Mainz regained a visible symbol of a vivid Jewish life in the city. Now, the new community centre constructed by architect Manuel Herz is located at the same place as in 1912. This place, steeped in history, was renamed as “Synagogenplatz” (Synagogue Square).