There are reports of the occasional presence of Jews in Haarlem during the Middle Ages. However, in Haarlem, as in all of the Netherlands, there is no evidence of a sustained Jewish settlement during the period. A group of Portuguese Jewish merchants tried to settle in Haarlem in 1605. Their attempt failed. They were unable to bring with them the full complement of fifty families required by the local authorities for the granting of permission to establish a synagogue.
Ashkenazic Jews arrived in Haarlem at the outset of the eighteenth century. The first of their numbers to become citizens of Haarlem did so in 1703. Initially, the economic condition of Jews living in Haarlem was constrained by the denial of guild membership to Jews.
A Jewish school was founded in Haarlem in 1742. Not long after, Jews were granted the right to hold religious services in a house on the Zoetestraat. In 1765, permission was granted for the opening of a synagogue on the first floor of a house on the Begijnhof, the present-day Goudsmidpleintje. One year later, the city fathers granted local Jews the right to create an organized Jewish community. In 1770, the community founded a cemetery of its own on the Bolwerk. The early years of the Jewish community of Haarlem were marred by conflicts. As a result, in 1794, the municipal authorities found it necessary to intervene in the internal affairs of the community. A Portuguese Jewish community was founded in Haarlem at the end of the eighteenth century but was dissolved soon after.
Despite the introduction of civil equality in the Netherlands in 1796, the overall economic condition of the Jews of Haarlem at the outset of the nineteenth century was poor. The municipality had to step in to help support the community and efforts including such as the founding of a school for the Jewish poor 1819 and the construction of the synagogue on the Lange Begijnenstraat in 1841.
During the nineteenth century, voluntary organizations within the Jewish community of Haarlem included the directorate and council of the synagogue and numerous social, cultural, religious, and leisure organizations. The late nineteenth century witnessed a brief flourishing of Jewish friendship clubs.
The Jewish cemetery on the Bolwerk remained in use from 1770 until 1833. In 1832, a section of the public cemetery on the de Kleverlaan was assigned to the Jewish community and remained in use until 1915. In 1877, a separate Jewish cemetery was opened on the Amsterdamsche Straatweg, today the Amsterdamse Vaart. The latter cemetery is still in use. In 1960, the cemetery on Het Bolwerk was cleared and the remains of its dead were interred at the cemetery on the Amsterdamse Vaart.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the industrialization of Haarlem brought with it a rise in the size and level of activities of the city's Jewish community. At the time, an important role in the spiritual life of the community was played by Rabbi Simon P. De Vries, an early champion of Zionism. By the early twentieth century, various new religious, social, cultural and Zionist organizations arose within the community. In 1930, a Jewish hospital was founded in a wing of the public St. Elisabeth Hospital. In 1936, Haarlem was selected as the seat of the chief rabbinate of the province of North Holland. During the 1930's, an influx of Jewish refugees from Germany caused the Jewish population of Haarlem to spike.
At the outset of the German occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War, Jewish refugees from Germany were expelled from all coastal regions of the country, including from Haarlem. A branch of the Jewish Coordination Commission was soon established in Haarlem, followed by a branch of the German-controlled Jewish Council. Both were chaired by Chief Rabbi Philip Frank. Following the participation of Haarlem in the general strike of February 1941, the Germans installed a member of the Dutch collaborationist NSB party as mayor of Haarlem. Thereafter, anti-Jewish measures were implemented at an accelerated tempo. Jewish children were barred from public education and a Jewish kindergarten, elementary, and high school were established. Deportations of Jews from Haarlem commenced in Augustus, 1942. A number of leading members of the community, including Chief Rabbi Frank, were shot. It is estimated that a total of more than 1,000 Jews were deported from Haarlem, of these only a dozen returned alive from the concentration camps. During the German occupation, the Jewish cemetery on the Amsterdamse Vaart was vandalized and the synagogue was plundered, its Torah scrolls, however, were eventually recovered.
After the War, the synagogue was sold and later razed. The Jewish community was founded anew and, in 1949, purchased a building at Kenaupark No. 7 for use as a synagogue, school, and community offices. The Jewish hospital was sold and the proceeds were used to found an old age home with branches in Haarlem and in Haifa. The Haarlem branch, named after Rabbi De Vries, was closed in 1991. The cemetery on the Amsterdamse Vaart was repaired and restored as far as possible. In 1996, the Stichting Boete en Verzoening (Foundation for Penance and Reconciliation) voluntarily renovated the cemetery. Other Jewish Cemeteries still existing in the vicinity of Haarlem include those at Overveen, Hoofddorp, and Santpoot-Zuid.
An initiative in 2001 to install a monument in the Kenaupark in memory of the Jews of Haarlem murdered in the Second World War failed due to a conflict between the organizers and the municipality. The pre- and post-war archives of the Jewish community of Haarlem have been collated and, since 2002, have been open to public viewing at the archives of the surrounding Kennemerland district of the province of Noord-Holland.
In September 2012 on Philip Frankplein a monument was unveiled with the names of the Jews who were deported and killed in the Second World War.
Since 2005 the Jewish cemetery at Tetterodeweg Overveen, which is in use since 1797, has the status of a monument.
The Jewish population of Haarlem and surroundings:
The size of the Jewish community over time