A small Jewish community existed in Hilversum as early as the first half of the eighteenth century. At the time, the community prayed in a private home in the Kerkstraat, near the Groeststraat. In 1781, the city fathers of Hilversum approved the statutes of the Jewish community and in 1788 the leadership of the community received permission to build a public house of prayer. The consecration of the new synagogue, located on the Zeedijk, took place in 1789.
Beginning in 1751, the Hilversum community was granted the use of a cemetery located on the Gooise Vaart. This cemetery remained in use until 1863 when the community obtained ground on the Vreelandseweg for a new cemetery and was cleared away in 1937.
Official organizations of the Hilversum community included a seven-member synagogue council and a council for assistance to the poor. Voluntary organizations included a burial society, several charitable societies, and a study fellowship. A women's society provided for the upkeep of the synagogue and for the support of needy new mothers. The Jewish school was located in a building on the Zeedijk that also served as the residence of the community's teacher. In 1906, the building was renovated and two full stories were allotted to the school.
Early in the nineteenth century, most Jews in Hilversum worked as traders or butchers. Jews also were visibly represented amongst the market and street vendors of Hilversum. In the field of manufacturing, two members of the Jewish De Rood family each opened carpet-weaving factories. By the end of the nineteenth century, the rise of industrialization caused the number of Jews in Hilversum to grow and also led to greater professional diversity among them. By far the largest increase in the Jewish population of Hilversum occurred between 1900 and 1930.
Hilversum and its surroundings were the site of a number of central medical and social facilities maintained by Dutch Jewry. These included the S. A. Rudelsheim Foundation and Beth Azarya Home for retarded children, the Beth Refu'a Sanitarium, and the children's health colonies of the Friedman Foundation. The De Bergstichting for adoptive children and children from needy families was located in the nearby town of Laren. The Zonnestraal sanitarium cared for a large number of Jewish patients, most of whom were diamond workers.
Many new cultural and Zionist organizations arose in Jewish Hilversum during the first decades of the twentieth century. In nearby Loosdrecht, a children's residence was opened by a Youth Aliyah organization. During the 1930s, the Hilversum community also founded a children's synagogue and published weekly and monthly magazines. The same decade also saw the arrival in Hilversum of many Jewish refugees from Germany.
Immediately following the German invasion of the Netherlands in May, 1940, there was a rash of suicides among Jews throughout the Netherlands. Hilversum was no exception; three Jewish suicides were recorded there. Hilversum was and remains the center of Dutch radio and television broadcasting. Early into the German occupation, the AVRO broadcasting network fired its Jewish employees. Not long after, the Jewish population of Hilversum was swelled by the arrival of 400 German Jewish refugees expelled by the Germans from towns in the coastal regions of the Netherlands in which they had found refuge.
Anti-Jewish measures were begun at high speed in Hilversum during the course of 1941. In part, this may have been because the mayor of Hilversum was a member of the collaborationist NSB party and also because a portion of the population of Hilversum had come out in support of the country-wide general strike of February 1941 protesting anti-Jewish measures.
Following the expulsion of Jewish students from public schools throughout the Netherlands, three Jewish schools were opened in Hilversum: an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school. In January 1942, all stateless Jews were deported from Hilversum. In May of the same year, two hundred German Jews were expelled from Hilversum to the Amsterdam suburb of Asterdorp. By mid-June, the majority of Hilversum Jews were also forced to move to Amsterdam. Deportation of patients from the Jewish medical and social institutions in and around Hilversum commenced in March 1943. By April 1943, those Jews who still remained in Hilversum were deported to Nazi death camps via the prison camp at the Dutch village of Vught. Only ten percent of all Jews resident in Hilversum in 1941 came through the war alive. A plaque at the Jewish cemetery of Hilversum honors the memory of those who did not.
Forty-eight students remained at the residence of the Youth Aliya organization in Loosdrecht in 1941. Many of them succeeded in going into hiding and several of those who were apprehended and deported returned to the Netherlands alive after the war. In all, more than thirty of the group survived.
The Zeedijk synagogue was plundered by the Germans in 1942. Ceremonial objects remaining in the synagogue were stolen but the Torah scrolls had been hidden in advance and were later recovered. The synagogue building itself was dismantled piece by piece during the severe fuel shortage and famine of the winter of 1944-1945.
Jewish life in Hilversum was reestablished after the war and blossomed for a time during the 1950s and 1960s. The remains of the ruined synagogue were sold and later razed. The Jewish school on the Zeedijk was converted into a synagogue in 1952 but was demolished in 1969 as part of an urban renewal project. Soon after, the community built a new synagogue on the Laanstraat. The Inter-Provincial Chief Rabbinate of the Netherlands, the highest organ of Dutch Jewry, has been based in the building since 1990. The Laanstraat synagogue was open for religious services during the High Holidays until 2005. After this year Hilversum Jews attended religious services at the Bussum synagogue.
Most of the former Jewish medical and social institutions in and around Hilversum are now closed and new uses have been found for their physical plants.
The Zonnestraal Sanitarium remained in operation until 1957 and housed a hospital for a few years thereafter. Following the closure of the hospital, the facility was abandoned and fell into decay. The building, originally designed by architect Jan Duiker, was restored in 2003. It now houses a museum and practices and companies in the field of health care.
In 2007 the restoration of the ritual washing house and the cemetery started, financed with private funds and a donation by the local community. The restoration of both cemetery and ritual washing house was finished in 2012.
Nearby Laren never contained an independent Jewish community. However, Laren was home to a number of Jewish artists including Lion Schulman and his son David, both of whom were members of the so-called Laren School during the first decades of the twentieth century.
The Jewish population of Hilversum and surroundings:
The size of the Jewish community over time