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 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!
Arrive in Frankfurt and check in to the 5-star deluxe Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof Hotel—one of the premier hotels in Frankfurt. Rest and relax or explore the city.
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 Shabbat dinner at our hotel (included).
Morning: At leisure or attend services with the Frankfurt Jewish community.
Afternoon: A visit to the Städel Museum, a short walk from our hotel, 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; 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.
Evening lecture by Chaim Seidler-Feller, “Ashkenazic Pietists and Their Mystical-Ascetic Theology,” followed by dinner on our own.
Morning visit to the nearby Judengasse Museum, which illustrates 300 years of the everyday life of Frankfurt’s Jews.
In 1987, when the city of Frankfurt began constructing a building for the public utilities company, workers uncovered the 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 (the Jewish Holocaust Remembrance Wall) to the deported Jews of Frankfurt are now visible as a historical ensemble.
Additionally, we will visit the Jewish Museum of Frankfurt, housed in what once was the “Rothschild Palais,” for a private guided tour.
Lunch on our own and the rest of the afternoon and evening free.
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 lunch on our own in Old Town, we will visit Isaak E. Lichtigfeld School—a state-recognized Jewish school with grades that run from primary school through university entry level. Although the Isaak E. Lichtigfeld is a Jewish school, it has been open to students of all beliefs since its founding in 1804. Today, approximately 480 boys and girls attend the school.
Evening lecture by Chaim Seidler-Feller, “The Napoleonic Sanhedrin and the Assimilation of French Jewry,” followed by dinner on our own.
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 Yaakov ben Moshe Moelin (1365–1427, known in rabbinic circles as the Maharil—acronym for our teacher, the Rabbi Yaakov Levi). The Maharil was spiritual leader of the Jews of Germany, Austria, and Bohemia and a leading authority on Jewish Law. 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), known to scholars of Judaism as Rabbeinu Gershom Me’Or Hagolah (Our Teacher Gershom the Light of the Exile). Rabbi Gershom (960–1040) is most famous in Jewish tradition for his rulings prohibiting polygamy. Additionally, in Mainz, we will visit Saint Stephen’s Church, which contains Germany’s only stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall. Lunch (included) along the way.
This morning, we will depart from Frankfurt for Worms, historically one of the leading centers of Jewish life in the Rhineland. Upon arrival in Worms, we will visit a synagogue that dates to the early 11th century; and Rashi House (today a museum, named after Rashi, Rabbi Solomon Yitzchaki, 11th-century author of the most important, comprehensive commentary on the Talmud and Torah), as well as the Worms Jewish cemetery, containing some of the oldest Jewish graves in Europe.
Following a break for lunch (included), we will depart for Strasbourg. The language is French, but the architecture, food, and wine are overwhelmingly German. Cities and towns all over Alsace have German names, while many are a French-German hybrid—understandable, since Alsace changed hands from French to German and back again many times. Dinner at our hotel (included).
Strasbourg is home to some 16,000 Jews today, and during our stay, we will explore the province’s rich Jewish history. For example, the rue des Juifs (street of the Jews) is over 1,600 years old and was the Roman east–west road, the heart of the old Jewish quarter and one of Strasbourg’s oldest streets.
Our day 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. Following lunch on our own in La Petite France, we will visit the Notre Dame Cathedral, containing statues of Synagoga and Ecclesia, as well as Jewish tombstones dating back to the 10th century in the Musée de l’Oeuvre nearby.
This afternoon, we will visit the Alsatian Museum of Strasbourg and enjoy a private guided tour. The museum provides a charming tour of old Strasbourg homes connected by wooden staircases and passageways and presents thousands of objects that illustrate rural life in Alsace in the 18th and 19th centuries, including rooms devoted to Judaism.
Evening lecture by Chaim Seidler-Feller, “Rashi and the Emergence of a Talmudic (or Jewish Learning) Culture in Ashkenaz,” followed by dinner on our own.
Full-day excursion to Baden-Baden, including a visit to its synagogue and meeting with Rabbi Daniel Naftali, followed by a walking tour of Baden-Baden.
Afternoon: (optional) Tour of the Frieder Burda Museum, designed by renowned New York celebrity architect Richard Meier, is a sparkling jewel in Baden-Baden. Its architecture and design, renowned for natural light and elegant layout, are truly unique—much like the collection itself, which contains several old masterpieces. Or, those who prefer can explore Baden-Baden on their own for shopping or spend an afternoon at one of Baden-Baden’s renowned spas. Lunch on our own.
Evening: Shabbat dinner at our hotel (included).
Morning: At leisure or attend services with the Jewish community of Strasbourg.
Afternoon: Free to visit sites of personal interest and/or explore Strasbourg on our own.
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.
We will spend this morning visiting Colmar, with its painted and carved old houses. Colmar is one of the loveliest towns in Alsace. Here, we will tour the Musée Bartholdi (architect and sculptor of the Statue of Liberty), as well as view the famous Isenheim triptych altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald, located in the Musée Unterlinden. Lunch on our own in Colmar before returning to Strasbourg. Remainder of the day free.
Evening: Free; dinner on our own.
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. After lunch (included) along the way, we will pass through the smaller towns of Benfeld and Obernai (a fascinating tourist town where traces of the old Jewish community can still be seen) and, time permitting, view one or both towns’ charming and historic synagogues.
Evening: Closing festive dinner (included).
Depart for home.
In the heart of the financial district and the historic city center, this hotel has been welcoming since 1876. The Main Tower, Römer, and Paulskirche are only a few steps away, and the central station is a 15-minute walk. There is a chic breakfast eatery, an acclaimed French restaurant, and a charming brasserie with a terrace, along with a cozy bar offering afternoon tea. Other amenities include a gym, plush spa, and barbershop.
On the banks of the River Ill and in the heart of La Petite France district, this refined spa hotel is a 10-minute walk from Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg. Its serene rooms, some with exposed beams and river views, are all unique in shape and style. Within the hotel is a sleek restaurant and chic champagne bar with terrace. Other amenities include a sauna, hammam, and terrace with a hot tub.