The first Jews to settle in Nijkerk arrived early in the seventeenth century. The new arrivals purchased land in the vicinity of Nijkerk on which to cultivate tobacco. In the period following their arrival, the present-day Nieuwstraat came to be called the Jodenbreestraat (Jews' Main Street). By 1650, the Jewish population of Nijkerk was large for enough for the community to purchase ground for a cemetery of its own on the Hoogstraten.
In the decades that followed, most of the original group of Jewish tobacco farmers left Nijkerk; however, the arrival early in the eighteenth century of an influential Jewish family of Italian origin gave new impetus both to the local tobacco industry and to Jewish life in Nijkerk. As a result, the Nijkerk community became the only Italian-Jewish community in the Netherlands at the time. Until 1728, religious services were held in a private home on the Koetsendijk called Huijs met de Bijenkorf and later in another, unnamed private home.
Ashkenazi Jews arrived in Nijkerk beginning early in the eighteenth century. They worked as slaughterers and butchers as well as growers and traders of tobacco. At first, the Ashkenazi Jews were absorbed into the Italian Jewish community but soon their numbers grew to the point that they organized religious services of their own, also in a private home. In 1761, the Ashkenazi Jews applied to the local authorities for permission to build a synagogue of their own. Their application was approved but, instead of constructing a new synagogue, they converted the attic of a building on the Singel to serve as a synagogue. They prayed there until 1801 when they finally did consecrate a new synagogue, also located on the Singel.
The statutes of the Askenazi community of Nijkerk were formalized in 1778. Two years later, the community purchased ground on the Oude Amersfoortseweg between Nijkerk and Nijkerkerveen for a cemetery of their own, later known as the De Korte Dood (Brief Death). Subsequently, the Ashkenazi community established a second cemetery on the Hoogstraten near Nijkerk's original seventeenth-century Jewish burial ground.
As time passed, the Askenazi population of Nijkerk grew and the town's Italian-Jewish population declined. By 1808, the Central Consistory of Dutch Jewry compelled the Ashkeni and Italian Jewish communities of Nijkerk to merge, over objections by the Italian Jews. Torah scrolls brought to Nijkerk from Italy by the first generation of Italian Jews to settle in the town were then transferred to the Ashkenazi synagogue. The Italian synagogue was converted to a meeting hall and schoolhouse - religious lessons earlier having been given in the home of the community's teacher. Until as late as 1844, the combined community continued to pray according to the Italianate tradition.
An officially recognized Jewish school was established in Nijkerk in 1848. In 1850, secular subjects were added to the school's solely religious curriculum. Sometime thereafter, the school was moved to a building of its own in the Kloosterstraat. Over the course of the nineteenth century, Nijkerk built a reputation as a center of Jewish learning, a tradition that continued well into the twentieth century.
Formal bodies and positions within the Nijkerk community included a community directorate and council and a treasurer for the collection and disbursement of aid to the Jewish community in Eretz Israel. Voluntary organizations included a burial society, a society for the upkeep of the synagogue, a women's society, various study fellowships, and a lending association for retailers.
The Jewish population of Nijkerk declined over the first four decades of the twentieth century and, by the eve of the Second World War, had shrunk to only a few families. Nonetheless, the community restored its synagogue in 1926 on the occasion of the house of worship's 125th anniversary. A Jewish social and recreational club was founded in Nijkerk in 1936.
During the Second World War, religious services at the Nijkerk synagogue ceased following a German raid in the winter of 1940 - 1941. The synagogue was later damaged in a grenade attack. For as long as possible, the community continued to hold religious services in the building of the Jewish school on the Kloosterstraat. In April 1943, the Jews of Nijkerk - with the exception of a few who managed to survive the war in hiding - were apprehended and detained at the prison camp and Vught prior to being deported to Nazi death camps and murdered. Only a small number of the deported returned alive.
Jewish life in Nijkerk did not resume after the war. The remains of the synagogue were sold in 1954 and the site was later redeveloped for commercial space. The Jewish community of Nijkerk was officially dissolved in 1962 and placed under the jurisdiction of the Jewish community at Amersfoort. The two cemeteries on the Hoogstraten were cleared away the very same year. The cemetery on the Oude Amerfoortseweg was partially restored in 2000 and is currently maintained by the local authorities. A monument in memory of the 48 Jews of Nijkerk deported and murdered during the Second World War was unveiled at the corner of the Bruins Slotlaan and the Vetkamp in 2002. A plaque on the wall of a shoe store on the Singel marks the site where the Nijkerk synagogue had once stood. The plaque was donated by the Stichting Joods Monument Nijkerk (Nijkerk Jewish Monument Foundation).
The Jewish population of Nijkerk and surroundings:
The size of the Jewish community over time