The Jewish guide to Croatia
Jewish and visiting Croatia? Say no more, we know your fears and concerns. From taking good care of respecting kosher regulations to finding synagogues and friendly communities – this guide has got you covered.
Synagogues and towns
The Jewish community in Croatia numbers around 2500 members. They live in 10 distinctive Jewish townships.
The largest community is in the capital of Zagreb. Their headquarters are in Palmoticeva 16. At the same address you will find a synagogue, an art gallery, a Holocaust research and documentation center and the largest Jewish library in the Balkans, named after rabbi Lavoslav Sik. Another community, called Bet Israel, operates on Mazuranicev Trg 6. It also has its own synagogue and library. A large number of Jewish tombs can be found at beautiful Mirogoj Cemetery.
The synagogue of Split has been dated to the early 16th century, but archaeological findings proved Jews existed in the city more than 400 years before. It is located in what is known as Zidovski Prolaz (“Jewish Passage”), a small street in the north-western part of Diocletian’s Palace. Even today, the quarter where it’s located is known as the “ghetto” by residents. On the eastern slope of Mt. Marjan lies a large Jewish cemetery with calligraphy-inscribed tombstones.
In Rijeka Jews attend their religious services in their Orthodox synagogue, which was built in 1928. It is one of the rare Jewish religious objects which were not damaged or destroyed during or after World War II. Today it is considered a cultural monument by Rijeka’s authorities and is under protection. It is located at Ivana Filipovica 9. There is also a Jewish section in the new Kozala Municipal Cemetery, featuring more than 500 monuments with the status of a historic landmark.
In the 14th century, Spain ordered the expulsion of Jews from its soil and many took refuge in the city-state of Ragusa (today the Croatian city of Dubrovnik). A Jewish ghetto was established in a single street, today known as Zidovska (Jewish Alley). It is located in city’s center, bordering with the famous Stradun. It is interesting to note that the houses of Zidovska were connected with hidden passages which were commonly used to protect valuables and members of the community. Around 200 Jewish tombstones can be found on Boninovo cemetery. In 1667, a large earthquake damaged Dubrovnik’s walls, and some tombstones were used to repair the ruptures.
Osijek used to have a large Jewish community in the past, but unfortunate events in the last century paid their toll. The headquarters of the community are stationed in the former Jewish school at Radiceva 3 (right across the park with a sculpture called “Mother and Child,” dedicated to the victims of Holocaust and made by Oscar Nemon). Osijek’s main synagogue was destroyed in World War II. A smaller synagogue situated in Osijek’s Lower Town was sold to the Pentecostal community and serves as its Church. However, the Jewish cemetery at Cepinska Street is in good condition and still in service today.
The Jewish community of Cakovec can be found at Travnik 28. Its cemetery, considered a historical landmark and under the protection of town authorities, is still active. In Daruvar, the local synagogue was converted to a theatre and the cemetery is under the personal protection of the Jewish community (which resides in Vinogradska Street).
Koprivnica Jewish cemetery has five family mausoleums, some even inscribed with Hebrew. Monuments to the Jewish warriors of World War I and that Holocaust were erected. The community can be found at Frankopanska 19. The Jewish community in Slavonski Brod resides in Brace Radic Street 25, while the one in Virovitica can be found at Zvonimirov Trg 10/2. Its cemetery in Shlomovica Street has almost 200 religious monuments, but many of them were damaged during the Homeland War. Their restoration is scheduled.
Being a Jewish traveler can have its challenges, especially if one adheres to the rules of kosher. Similar to Muslims and their practice of halal cuisine, Jews must follow a strict diet prescribed by religious literature. Doing so can be difficult on vacation, especially if your hosts are unaware of the practice and have a language barrier making it difficult for them to understand your needs.
There are no “kosher restaurants” in Croatia per se, but more luxurious and prominent restaurants usually feature staff familiar with the practice. Asking them for an advice will surely put the right food on your plate. However, in small family restaurants, you will have to put some extra work into recognizing which dish is fine for you. Most restaurants have multi-lingual menus, so you will probably have at least two or three options to choose from.
Bet Israel Community annually prints a list of kosher products available in Croatia. The most recent one can be downloaded here.
As the grim shadow of Nazism crawled across Europe, many Jewish citizens found death in concentration camps. Unfortunately, such places existed in Croatia as well. Their locations serve as memorial centers today, so that newer generations can be educated about that dark era of human history.
The largest camp was a complex next to the Sava River, known under the name of Jasenovac. Around 20 000 Jews were killed in it, and around 7000 were transported to Auschwitz camp. Today, the visitors can learn about the suffering and courage of the victims in the Jasenovac Memorial Site. It features a museum with photographs, archives, tapes, documents and relics related to the tragic events of the site.
The Jewish community in Croatia is a small but well organized and dedicated group of people. They have several cultural events which promote their culture and identity. Jewish or not, you should check some of them out – we recommend the Zagreb Jewish Film Festival.