These are the tours in and out of Frankfurt.
Jewish communities established in the Middle Rhine cities of Mainz, Worms and Speyer circa 10C, are the earliest Jewish settlements in Europe and are very important in Ashkenazi history. The total name SHuM is an acronym from initial letters of Speyer, Worms and Mainz in Hebrew.
Mainz will be the first of the three ShUM cities we will visit. We will see the grave of Mainz’s most famous Jewish son, Rabbenu Gershom ben Judah (960-1040). His wisdom was such that he was named Meor Ha-Golah – “Light of the Diaspora”, and his teachings and decrees had a major impact on Jewish life over the centuries, so much so that one might consider him the father of Ashkenazic Judaism. Rabbenu Gershom founded a great yeshivah in Mainz which became the leading Torah academy of its time in Europe and attracted the likes of Rashi, the famous French commentator of the Bible and Talmud. We will also visit Mainz’s magnificent new synagogue and community centre which was inaugurated in 2011 and enthusiastically supported by the City of Mainz. The silhouette of the synagogue forms an outline of the letters of the Hebrew word Kedusha (holiness or sanctification), symbolising the revival of Jewish life in Mainz. Beyond its Jewish claim to fame, Mainz was also the birthplace and home of Johannes Gutenberg, whose invention of moveable type enabled the widespread printing of books and documents. His technical and artistic achievements are presented in a museum in the heart of the old section of Mainz which also exhibits the writing and printing of numerous different cultures. You will be able to visit this, and other museums and galleries, during your free time in Mainz.
Following our tour of Mainz we will move on to nearby Worms. The fact that it was also referred to as “little Jerusalem” bears testimony to the importance of Worms´ medieval Jewish community. The city also serves as an extraordinary example of the conservation and revival of places in Germany today connected to Jewish history. We will visit the “Holy Sands” cemetery, the oldest preserved Jewish burial place in Europe which, amazingly, escaped the ravages of Nazism largely unscathed. We will stop at the gravestone of Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg, the leading figure of C13th German Jewry about whose remarkable life we will have more to say prior to our departure for Munich in a few days time. In Worms we will also visit the reconstructed C11th Rashi Synagogue and the so-called C17th Rashi Chapel.
Day tour of Speyer and Heidelberg
We will begin the day with a visit to Speyer and thus conclude our tour of the three ShUM cities. In the Middle Ages, Speyer was home to one of the most significant Jewish communities in the Holy Roman Empire. We will commence at the C11th Speyer Cathedral and learn about the Bishop who invited Jews to settle in Speyer in 1084 with the proclamation that “I would increase the honor I was bestowing on the place if I brought in the Jews.” We will see the remnants of two synagogues and the mikveh which dates back to 1128 and was built by the same stone masons who constructed the Speyer Cathedral. We will also explore the treasures of Worms’ small Jewish museum.
We will continue on to Heidelberg, established at the end of the C12th and regarded as Germany’s most romantic city. We will visit Heidelberg Castle with its amazing views of the city below. Heidelberg is renowned for its famous university which was founded in 1386, making it the oldest in Germany. The city is also home to one of the leading centres of Jewish Studies in Europe today. In 1979 the Central Council of Jews in Germany opened the University for Jewish Studies) in Heidelberg. In addition to its regular academic program in Jewish Studies, the University trains rabbis, cantors, and community workers for Jewish communities in German-speaking European countries. We will visit the Synagogenplatz, a memorial based on the footprint of a synagogue that was burned down in the infamous Kristallnacht of 1938.
Overnight in Mainz.
Day tour of Frankfurt
Upon arrival in Frankfurt we will begin in the heart of the city at the famous medieval Römer where the German Emperors were once crowned, and hear the story of the court Jews who financed. We will visit the Museum Judengasse which is built over the archaeological site where one can still descend the steps of an 800 year old Mikveh and also see the foundations of houses of the former Judengasse, Frankfurt’s medieval ghetto. At the adjacent old Jewish cemetery we will see depictions of gryphons and dragons on the medieval headstones, as well as the highly moving and evocative Wall of Remembrance, a memorial to Frankfurt’s many victims of the Shoah. At the Alter Judische Friedhof cemetery we will visit the graveside of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the father of German Neo-Orthodoxy. At the front of the cemetery are the graves of about 800 Frankfurt Jews who evaded Nazi persecution and deportation by committing suicide. There are also 50 graves of German Jewish soldiers killed in the First World War. We will visit the Rothschild Palace, home now to the Jewish Museum and see images and models of how the community lived over the centuries. Depending on conditions of access, we may visit the Westend synagogue which features a domed central building in Egyptian-Assyrian style. It survived the ravages of Kristallnacht and WWII relatively unscathed. Today the large main sanctuary holds Orthodox services, but every Jewish group within Frankfurt’s diverse Jewish Community has a home in this building.
Goethe, by far Germany’s most beloved writer, was born in Frankfurt and we will see his house and hear about his connections to the Jewish community of the 19th century.
As we walk through Frankfurt our guide will also point out various sites which make Frankfurt an international metropolis: the highest skyscrapers in Europe; the ‘Museum River Bank’, a cultural mile of museums framed by the charm of the Main River landscape; and the 95 meter high Gothic cathedral.