Meyer Harroch

‘Jewish Heritage and Community in Versailles’

Synagogue de Versailles, New York Jewish Travel Guide

The Jewish history of Versailles, a city renowned for its opulent palace and significant role in French history, reflects a rich and evolving narrative. The community has roots extending back several centuries, with fluctuating periods of growth and decline influenced by broader socio-political events in France.

The Jewish community in Versailles is vibrant and active, centered around its historic synagogue, which serves as both a place of worship and a community hub. The synagogue of Versailles, located at 10 rue Albert Joly, was established in the late 19th century and is a testament to the enduring presence of Jews in the region. Architecturally modest compared to the grandeur of the Palace of Versailles, it stands as a significant symbol of Jewish resilience and cultural continuity. It has played a crucial role in maintaining Jewish traditions and fostering a sense of community among its members. Throughout its history, the Versailles Synagogue has celebrated both Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions, with services primarily following the Sephardic rite.

Cécile-Charlotte Furtado-Heine Plaque, New York Jewish Travel Guide

Cécile-Charlotte Furtado-Heine (1821–1896) was a notable philanthropist who played a critical role in the support and development of Jewish and broader philanthropic activities in France. She was born into a wealthy Jewish family and used her considerable resources to support various charitable causes, including hospitals, orphanages, and educational institutions. Among her notable contributions was the establishment of the Furtado Heine Hospital in Paris, which provided medical care for the indigent. Her legacy of philanthropy extended to the Jewish community in Versailles, helping to foster a spirit of care and communal support.

Following World War II, like many Jewish institutions across Europe, the synagogue experienced a period of dormancy due to the upheaval and tragic losses suffered during the war. However, in the 1960s, a transformative event occurred with the arrival of a large wave of Jewish immigrants, primarily from Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. This influx brought new life to the synagogue, filling its halls once more with worshippers and community members eager to rebuild their lives in France.

Synagogue de Versailles, New York Jewish Travel Guide

This post-war period marked a significant cultural shift as the synagogue embraced Sephardic traditions brought by North African Jewish immigrants. Sephardic Judaism, with its distinctive customs, liturgy, and music, became integral to the synagogue’s identity. Today, the Synagogue de Versailles proudly represents a vibrant Sephardic community, where these rich cultural elements continue to shape religious practices and community life. It stands as a symbol of continuity and strength, embodying the diverse tapestry of Jewish life in France. In 2010, the Versailles Synagogue was honored as a historical monument of France, a recognition that took fifteen years due to its architectural and cultural significance.”

Versailles has one main active synagogue, which is well-supported by its members. The community relies on both membership dues and donations, particularly through auctions during the High Holidays, to fund its activities and maintain the synagogue. These auctions often feature aliyot (the honor of being called up to the Torah) and other communal honors, which members bid on generously. The funds raised are crucial for the synagogue’s upkeep and the continuation of its various programs.

Synagogue de Versailles, New York Jewish Travel Guide

Maurice Elkaim, President of the Versailles Synagogue and originally from Morocco, stated, “In our Beth Midrash, we hold a daily morning minyan with about 10 to 15 congregants. The larger synagogue is used for Shabbat and holidays. We have excellent relations with French-elected officials and hold monthly meetings with our community members.”

He added, “The synagogue facade faces north and never gets sunlight, while the south-facing windows look out onto a wall. This orientation is unusual since synagogues are typically oriented west-east. Above the portal, there are Hebrew inscriptions of Biblical verses: ‘Blessed are you at your coming, and blessed are you in your going out,’ ‘Come in turmoil into the house of God,’ and at the top of the building, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord,’ and ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’”

Versailles is home to an estimated 500 Jewish families, comprising roughly 2,000 individuals who reside in the vicinity. Many of these families commute about thirty minutes from neighboring communities to attend synagogue services. In recent years, the community has experienced modest growth in its population, largely due to families migrating from Paris suburbs in search of a tranquil yet socially connected environment. This influx has significantly enhanced the community’s cultural and social dynamics, fostering a vibrant and diverse atmosphere.
Synagogue de Versailles, New York Jewish Travel Guide

Versailles hosts several Jewish educational institutions that cater to the community’s needs. Gan Yeladim Preschool provides early childhood education centered on Jewish traditions and values, fostering a nurturing environment for young children to start their educational journey. The Talmud Torah offers religious education and Hebrew classes for children and teenagers, ensuring a strong foundation in Jewish knowledge and practice. Maurice Elkaim added, “Our synagogue hosts a Hebrew Sunday school with morning classes. We see an average of five families moving to Versailles each year from Paris, Switzerland, and other places, attracted by the excellent schools, larger homes, and green parks.”  Lycée Jean-Baptiste Say, while not exclusively a Jewish school, accommodates many Jewish students and respects their religious practices, providing a supportive environment for both their academic and personal growth.

Beth Loubavitch Versailles, New York Jewish Travel Guide

The Chabad-Lubavitch movement has a presence in Versailles, providing a range of services to the Jewish community. The Chabad Center offers Torah classes, holiday programs, Shabbat meals, and youth activities. Their outreach efforts help maintain Jewish identity and practices among community members. Chabad’s dynamic programs and welcoming approach have made it a central part of Jewish life in Versailles, attracting both locals and visitors.

Ms. Valeria Asher, owner of Valeria Tours, told NYJTG that Jonathan Sandler, who has a memorial plaque in the synagogue, was a Jewish teacher who, along with his two young sons, tragically fell victim to a terrorist attack in Toulouse in 2012. Though he was not a resident of Versailles, his death profoundly impacted Jewish communities across France, including Versailles. It underscored the ongoing challenges and threats faced by Jewish communities and reinforced the importance of solidarity and security. His legacy continues to inspire efforts to strengthen and protect Jewish life in France.

In France, a law established in 1905 prohibits synagogues from receiving state funding or benefits, requiring them to rely entirely on community support for maintenance and activities. The Versailles Synagogue sustains itself through membership dues and generous donations from community members. A significant portion of its funding comes from auctions held during the High Holidays, where members generously bid on aliyot and other communal honors. The funds raised are essential for the synagogue’s upkeep and the continuation of its various programs.

Mr. Valeria shared an intriguing story about a local legend in Versailles involving a church without a bell. According to the tale, Mrs. Cécile-Charlotte Furtado-Heine, a prominent philanthropist, allegedly funded the church under the condition that it would not have a bell. Allegedly, Mrs. Furtado-Heine ensured that the bell’s toll would not disturb residents, including the Jewish community. Though the story’s authenticity is debated, it underscores her reputation for prioritizing the community’s well-being.

Maurice Elkaim, President of the Synagogue de Versailles and Ms. Valerie Asher, Tours of Valeria, New York Jewish Travel Guide

The Jewish community in Versailles enthusiastically observes various holidays. During Purim, the synagogue holds a Megillah reading, organizes a festive meal, and plans activities such as costume contests and games for children. Passover is marked by community seders, gathering 50 to 80 members to learn about its significance. Shabbat dinners typically draw 80 to 200 attendees, varying with each occasion or holiday. Additionally, our recently renovated community center in Le Chesnay, just 5 minutes from the Synagogue and 15 minutes from Paris, warmly hosts weddings, engagements, henna ceremonies, brit Mila, bar and bat mitzvahs, birthdays, and private parties for up to 200 people. Educational sessions are held to deepen understanding of holiday traditions, especially among younger members. On Yom Kippur, the community joins for day-long services featuring special prayers, Torah readings, and opportunities for communal reflection and atonement, fostering a profound sense of unity and spiritual support.

Security is a paramount concern for the synagogue, especially for tourist visits. To ensure the safety of visitors and congregants, the synagogue requires tourists to submit a copy of their passport prior to their visit. Additionally, security personnel are stationed at the synagogue, providing a secure environment for all activities.

The Jewish cemetery in Versailles is an active burial ground, serving the community with dignity and respect. Spanning a considerable area, it accommodates numerous gravesites and provides a place for families to honor their loved ones while upholding the tradition of respectful burial within the Jewish faith. Ms. Asher, who has a deep connection to French Jewish history, remarked, “The Jewish cemetery in Versailles is an exclusive burial ground dedicated solely to the Jewish community, unlike those in Paris where Jewish cemeteries are often shared with other religious groups. This exclusivity ensures a sacred and dedicated space for Jewish burials, preserving the community’s traditions and practices.”

However, the cemetery is nearly full, with limited space available, making plots increasingly expensive. Consequently, many members of the Jewish community in Versailles opt to be buried in Israel. This choice aligns with religious beliefs, offers a meaningful connection to the Jewish homeland, and helps mitigate the logistical and financial challenges associated with securing a burial site in the local cemetery.

Versailles offers many benefits for Jewish families considering a move. The community is tight-knit and supportive, providing a rich cultural and religious environment. The presence of educational institutions catering to Jewish children ensures that families can maintain their traditions and values. The relatively quieter suburban lifestyle, coupled with its proximity to Paris, makes it an attractive option for those seeking a balanced life. Additionally, the vibrant community life, active synagogue, and various Jewish activities provide a sense of belonging and continuity.

The Jewish community of Versailles hosts a variety of cultural and religious activities to attract visitors and tourists. Guided tours of Jewish sites, such as the synagogue and other significant landmarks, offer visitors a profound exploration of the area’s rich Jewish heritage.

Additionally, the community warmly welcomes visitors to participate in Shabbat dinners, providing an opportunity to engage in communal meals and experience Jewish traditions firsthand. These efforts aim to foster inclusivity and a strong sense of community, making the Jewish experience in Versailles accessible and engaging for all.

The Jewish community in Versailles thrives as an integral part of the city’s cultural tapestry through robust educational programs, active religious life, and vibrant community engagement. Dedicated members drive these initiatives, ensuring the preservation and celebration of Versailles’ Jewish heritage. By upholding and sharing their traditions and values, the community cultivates a dynamic and welcoming environment that resonates with both residents and visitors.

For more information:

Story by Meyer Harroch, New York Jewish Travel, and New York Jewish

Le Beth Habad

Tel: 01 39 50 86 32;

For all the details and to organize your guided tour, please visit

Contact Ms. Valeria Asher for further details and a special Shabbat, followed by a visit to the Palace of Versailles.

Synagogue of Versailles 10 Rue Albert Joly, 78000 Versailles

About the Author
Meyer Harroch is the founder and travel writer of the prestigious New York Jewish Travel Guide, a digital Jewish travel publication established in 2013 that promotes Jewish travel, Jewish heritage destinations, international hotels, dining, and airlines, as well as tourism. Also, Meyer publishes the New York Jewish Parenting Guide, the New York Jewish Guide, the New York Jewish Chamber of Commerce, and the New York Jewish Event Guide.
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