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10 Inspiring Places Where You Can Learn About Jewish History Around the World

Synagogues, museums, and memorials to visit on your next trip.

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Hi, I'm Jamie!

Jamie Davis Smith is an attorney, writer, and mother of four who lives in Washington, DC. She can be reached at jamiesmithwrites@gmail.com.

The Jewish diaspora is vast, stretching from Europe to India to Africa and beyond. In each place where Jewish communities have settled, they’ve carried and blended traditions to create a unique new culture. Many centers of Judaism remain active and vibrant today, while others have dwindled or completely disappeared—but evidence of their history remains.

Around the world, you can find landmarks and museums that celebrate and honor Jewish life in its many forms. Other sites commemorate the atrocities of the Holocaust, serving as a stark reminder of the consequences of hatred. To learn more about Judaism and the diversity of Jewish culture, visit these 10 sites around the world.

1. Jewish Refugees Museum, Shanghai, China

Flags flying outside the Jewish Refugees Museum (Ohel Moishe Synagogue) in China.
Judaism likely reached China along the Silk Road.Photo Credit: NG-Spacetime / Shutterstock

Explore the lesser-known history of Judaism in Shanghai and beyond.

It’s likely that Judaism first arrived in China with traders along the Silk Road, before expanding during World War II, when the country provided refuge to Jews fleeing the Nazis. Although there’s little remaining Jewish culture in the country today, you can explore its history through former synagogues, homes, businesses and cemeteries in cities including Shanghai, Harbin, Tianjin, and Kaifeng. One of the most interesting sites is the Jewish Refugees Museum, housed in the former Ohel Moishe Synagogue, which documents centuries of Jewish life in China, and which you can visit as part of a tour of Jewish Shanghai.

2. Paradesi Synagogue, Cochin, India

Brightly painted Paradesi Synagogue in India.
Cochin in India has an active synagogue.Photo Credit: suronin / Shutterstock

India has a surprisingly rich Jewish culture and history.

There are at least five distinct Jewish communities living throughout India. The Paradesi Synagogue in Cochin dates back to the 16th century and remains an active Orthodox synagogue today. Founded by Spanish and Dutch Jews who had been expelled from Europe, it became a hub for Jews from around the world who settled in India. Paradesi translates to “foreigner,” and the interior reflects the European, Indian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern influences of the people who have worshiped there.

3. Jewish Ghetto, Rome, Italy

People stroll and dine in the old Jewish Ghetto in Rome.
Rome's Jewish presence dates back to before the times of Caesar.Photo Credit: Zoe Vincenti / Viator

Rome is home to one of Europe's most historic Jewish neighborhoods.

The Jewish presence in Rome predates the reign of Julius Caesar. In the 16th century, the Papal Bull placed limits on Jewish life and established the Jewish Ghetto. Today, the historic neighborhood pays tribute to Roman Jewish culture in many ways, remembering persecution through the centuries, while also honoring distinctive cultural contributions (including a culinary specialty, fried artichokes). Here you can visit the Great Synagogue, which still has an active congregation, and is home to the Jewish Museum of Rome, which holds an impressive collection of artifacts spanning thousands of years.

4. Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

People sit by the water outside Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.
Anne Frank's story can be further delved into at Anne Frank House.Photo Credit: Maximilian Mann / Viator

Perhaps the best-known Jewish destination in western Europe.

When the Nazis occupied Amsterdam, 13-year-old Anne Frank went into hiding with her family. She famously kept a diary detailing their lives at that time, and the small, cramped annex where they lived for more than two years before being captured has been preserved. Today, the house tells Frank’s story, as well as educating about anti-Semitism and wartime life in Amsterdam. An adjacent museum is dedicated to those who have experienced prejudice and discrimination around the world. For more insight, take a guided walking tour through Amsterdam’s Jewish Quarter.

5. Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, Krakow, Poland

The eerie grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum near Krakow in Poland.
Auschwitz-Birkenau is a lasting reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust.Photo Credit: PhotoFra / Shutterstock

This somber Polish museum and memorial is a must-visit.

Over a million Jews were murdered by the Nazis at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during World War II. Today, this memorial and museum is a place to remember those who died there, and serves as an enduring reminder of the horrors of genocide. The site holds the ruins of the camp, and artifacts from those who lived and died there, along with information about the Nazis responsible for the atrocities that took place at Auschwitz.

6. Medieval Synoguges and the Jewish Quarter, Toledo, Spain

Buildings in the Jewish Quarter of Toledo in Spain.
Medieval Spain had a huge Jewish population.Photo Credit: Jojo Photos / Shutterstock

Spanish Judaism has a richer history than you might expect.

In medieval times, more Jews are thought to have lived in Spain than in the rest of the world combined. Several synagogues from that era survive today in Toledo’s Jewish Quarter. See the mikvah ritual baths, and learn about medieval Jewish culture through architectural remains. While there, wander the labyrinth of alleyways that make up the area, sometimes called a “city within a city.”

7. The Museum of Moroccan Judaism, Casablanca, Morocco

Inside the The Museum of Moroccan Judaism in Casablanca.
Most Moroccan Jews live in Casablanca today.Photo Credit: Oleg Pokrovskiy / Tripadvisor

Learn more about Judaism in mostly-Muslim north Africa.

Jewish heritage sites can be found throughout Morocco. Fes, Marrakech, and Essaouira were all once home to thriving Jewish communities, but today, the majority of Moroccan Jews live in Casablanca. Learn about Jewish life throughout the country at the city’s Museum of Moroccan Judaism, which is the only Jewish museum in the Muslim world. The collection includes artifacts and photographs showing thousands of years of Jewish culture and traditions from around the country. Jewish heritage tours of Casablanca are also available.

8. Tenement Museum, New York City, US

The facade of the Tenement Museum in New York City with cherry blossom trees outside it.
Learn about early American Jewish culture at the Tenement Museum.Photo Credit: DW labs Incorporated / Shutterstock

New York City remains a stronghold of Jewish culture.

When Jews from Europe arrived in the United States in the early 1900s, many settled on the Lower East Side of New York City. Today, at the neighborhood’s Tenement Museum, several apartments these families called home have been restored. Visitors can learn about early American Jewish culture by touring the apartments and hearing the stories of the families that lived there. The museum also contains artifacts found in the tenements and photos reflecting Jewish life in the neighborhood.

Insider tip: There is still a heavy Jewish influence in the Lower East Side, including Jewish-style restaurants nearby. Check out Katz’s Delicatessen and Yonah Schimmel's Knish Bakery.

9. Jewish Quarter, Istanbul, Turkey

The colorful buildings of the Jewish Quarter in Istanbul in Turkey.
Galata has been the center of Jewish life in Istanbul for centuries.Photo Credit: Kvitka Fabian / Shutterstock

Jews expelled from western Europe found a home in Turkey.

Many Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 15th Century settled in Istanbul, where the neighborhood of Galata, now known as Karaköy, served as the center of Jewish life in the city for hundreds of years. While the community has largely dispersed to other parts of Istanbul, Galata’s synagogues remain an important part of Jewish life. Visitors to Galata can also visit the Quincentennial Foundation Museum of Turkish Jews, which chronicles centuries of Jewish life and traditions in Turkey, and climb the Tower of Galata for incredible views of the neighborhood.

Insider tip: Visitors need prior permission to enter Istanbul’s synagogues, so booking a tour in advance is recommended.

10. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC, US

Outside the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum makes for a somber visit.Photo Credit: Kamira / Shutterstock

An essential stop to learn about the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.

This somber museum documents the rise of the Nazis and anti-Semitism in Germany and around Europe, and subsequent murder of millions of Jews. The devastating impact of the Holocaust is felt through personal stories of survivors, artifacts, and photographs of Jewish life before, during, and after World War II. The museum also houses an extensive collection of records related to victims, survivors, liberators, and others who were impacted by the Holocaust. Looking to the past and present, the museum is dedicated to preventing future genocides, by encouraging action when early danger signs emerge.

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