Jews of Split
by David Zane
The port of Split, Croatia's second city, on the Adriatic, where the ferries leave for the beaches of Dalmatia, is blessed with a Jewish community founded in the 1st century CE, under the protection of Rome. There is an historic 16th century shul built into the walls of the Emperor iocletian's palace (244 to 311 CE ) and a cemetery consecrated in 1573. The synagogue is not a museum; services are held erev Shabbath with a visiting rabbi and a communal meal.
The city's Jews suffered tragic times. The Avars, a south Russian tribe, vandalised the settlers in the 7th century, who sought refuge within the Emperor's palace. A ghetto was created in 1738 where Jews were locked up at night , forced to wear humiliating hats, forbidden to employ Christians, and excluded from tailoring and dealing in food. Italian fascists, in 1942, burned and looted the synagogue. In 1943, after the younger men escaped to join Tito's partisans fighting in the hills and forests, Croation extremists, the Ustache, interned the remaining community , the old and frail, women with their children. There were no survivors. The Jewish partisans returned to the city. Over half died for their country. Some made aliyah, others remained to assist in the rebuilding.
The history and renaissance of the Jews of Split, never more than 300 strong, is an inspiration. Until the late 15th century, skill in tanning and dyeing,and trading contacts with the surrounding villages earned them the precarious protection and gratitude of their fellow citizens. The port flourished as a major commercial staging post , where oriental plants and spices were unloaded, destined for European markets. Sephardim expelled from Spain in 1492 found refuge in the tolerant atmosphere of the town. Lawyers, bankers, accountants and doctors established a reputation for honesty and skill, which enhanced the position of Split as a trading centre importing exotic luxuries from Africa and the Ottoman empire. Daniel Rodriga, a Spanish refugee, built a lazaretto on the quayside which served as a quarantine centre where herbs and sailors enjoyed benign short term internment till any infection and pests were removed.
In the 19th century the Morpurgo family were granted religious freedom to settle in Split. They established coal, asphalt and brick industries which contributed to the prosperity of the city. Their bookshop and publishing house in the main square still trades under the family name. They supported the revival of Croation culture and printed a patriotic newspaper.
In common with many other places in the world Anti Semitism exists in Croatia but the Jewish cemetery in Split is impeccably maintained; the Town's original synagogueis clearly if discretely signposted. Jewish professionals, merchants and businessmen are positively involved in tourist, welfare , and commercial activities. We experienced friendship and help in finding sites of Jewish interest.
On your trip, please call the Shul administrator in advance on 00385(0)21345672 .Visit the Cemetery, it is a peaceful and holy place with a magnificent view over the old port. Take coffee in the original prayer hall, there is a blessing in Hebrew script over the lintel.