Jews settled in Gorredijk during the second half of the eighteenth century. At that time, Jews arriving in Gorredijk faced no occupational restrictions. By 1800, the Jewish population of Gorredijk had risen to a level sufficient for the formal organization of a community.
In 1804, the Gorredijk community purchased ground for a cemetery in the village of Kortezwaag, nowadays the southern part of Gorredijk, to replace an earlier cemetery located in the village of Noordwolde. In its early years, the Gorredijk community gathered to pray in a room on the Noordoost-Dubbelestraat. A small synagogue local on the Langewal was inaugurated in 1807. In 1817, a school and a dwelling for its teacher were built adjacent to the synagogue. The school building was replaced with a new structure in 1856.
With the reorganization of the formal structure of Jewish communal life in the Netherlands in 1817 under the Nederlands Israelitisch Kerkgenootschap (central consistory of Dutch Jewry), the Gorredijk community was appointed as a Ringsynagoge or regional community. Bijkerken (local communities) under the aegis of the community at Gorredijk included those of at Noordwolde and Heerenveen. The Jewish community at Drachten was also named a Bijkerk under Gorredijk, but remained so only until 1821.
The Jewish community at Gorredijk was governed by a directorate and a council. Voluntary organizations included a Talmudic study fellowship, separate burial societies for men and for women, and a society for the placement of gravestones. A house for the poor was established by the community in 1853. In 1871, a local Jewish theater group held several performances. A branch of the Alliance Israelite Universelle was active in Gorredijk from late in the nineteenth century on.
Over the first third of the twentieth century, the number of Jews living in Gorredijk had fallen to the point that synagogue services could no longer be held regularly. In September, 1942, during the midst of World War II, the majority of those Jews still living in Gorredijk was deported and subsequently murdered in Nazi concentration camps. Only a few Jews from Gorredijk were able to escape death in hiding. A few dozen Jews from elsewhere in the Netherlands also managed to live out the war in hiding places in the vicinity of Gorredijk.
The Jewish community at Gorredijk was formally dissolved in 1948 and administratively merged into that of Leeuwarden. The synagogue, despite having come through the war unharmed, soon fell into disrepair and was razed in 1953.
In 1956, a plaque in memory of Gorredijk Jews murdered during the war was mounted on the wall of a building located in the Hoofdstraat.
In 2001, in the Van Haersma Park in nearby Drachten, a monument was unveiled commemorating the fourteen Jews of Drachten and the municipality of Smallingerland who were murdered during the war. The Jewish cemetery at Gorredijk, located on the Dwersfeart in Kortezwaag, is currently maintained by the municipality of Opsterland, of which Gorredijk forms part.
The Jewish population of Gorredijk and surroundings:
The size of the Jewish community over time