The Jewish presence at Mainz probably goes back to Roman times. In the 900s, Mainz – Magenza in Hebrew – became one of Europe’s foremost centres of Jewish spiritual and academic life and retained that position for a century.
During the Middle Ages, relations between the Jews, the city, and the archbishops were tumultuous to say the least, but from the late 18th century, the situation greatly improved, and Jews gradually gained full civil rights and became well integrated. The community flourished, and in 1912, they built a new synagogue in the the Art Deco style in the heart of the “Neustadt” area, a new development beyond the limits of the medieval city, to accommodate their growing numbers. All this came to an end in the 1930s, when the Jewish population of Mainz was driven into exile or murdered, and their synagogues destroyed.
Few Jews returned to Germany after the war. During the 1990s, however, Jews from Central and Eastern Europe began to settle in Germany, and Jewish communities began to grow again. In Mainz, work on a new synagogue and community centre began on the site where the Art Deco building had stood. The new synagogue, designed by Manuel Herz, is a strikingly modern structure that nonetheless reflects traditions which are many centuries old.
One of my colleagues, who is head of the Israel Studies unit here at Mainz, has kindly agreed to organise a guided tour of the synagogue for the participants of the ECPR Joint Sessions. If you are interested, drop us a line.