References to Jews living in Meerssen survive from the late seventeenth century. In 1715, a Jewish cemetery was established at Geulbrugge on the road from Meerssen to Rothem. Another old Jewish cemetery still stands in the former hamlet of Haasdal now part of the village of Schimmert.
A sizeable Jewish community did not come into being at Meerssen until the 1770s. At that time, religious services were held in a private home on the corner of the Kerkstraat and the Beekstraat. By 1796, the community utilized a hall in the Steegstraat as its synagogue. During the late eighteenth century, the surrounding of Meerssen was plagued by roving gangs of bandits, mostly comprised of Jews.
With the reorganization of Dutch Jewry during the 1820's the Jewish community at Meerssen was declared a regional community (Ringsynagoge) under the aegis of the Jewish community at Maastricht. The Jewish population of Meerssen remained relatively constant throughout the nineteenth century; thereafter, its numbers fell due to the general trend of migration to the more prosperous west of the Netherlands. A new synagogue, located on the Kuileneindestraat, was consecrated in 1853. Official and voluntary organizations at Meerssen included the community directorate and a women's society. The community also provided Jewish education for its children.
By the eve of the Second World War, the Jewish community at Meerssen had become so small that it effectively had ceased to function. Under the wartime German occupation of the Netherlands, almost all the remaining Jews of Meerssen were deported and murdered; only a few managed to escape death in hiding. The synagogue came through the war undamaged despite the theft of part of its contents.
The Jewish community at Meerssen was officially dissolved in 1947 and administratively merged into the Jewish community at Maastricht. The synagogue was sold in 1946. What was left of its interior was removed and reinstalled in the synagogue at Maastricht. The former synagogue at Meerssen was heavily damaged by fire in 1977. Later, it was restored by the Kring van Vrienden van de Synagoge Meerssen (The Association of Friends of the Meerssen Synagogue). The former synagogue has served as a social and cultural center since 1989. A Torah scroll originally from Meerssen and later in the possession of the Jewish Historical Museum Amsterdam was returned to the former synagogue in 1996. The Jewish cemetery at Meerssen was declared a national monument and later restored. It is currently maintained by the local authorities.
The Jewish population of Meerssen and surroundings:
The size of the Jewish community over time