A special message for Shavuot from Chief Rabbi Jacobs.

May 26, 2020

Shavuot starts on Thursday evening. For those of you lucky enough to understand dutch, we are pleased to share with you this deeply inspiring message from our esteemed EJA Board Member, Chief Rabbi Jacobs from the Netherlands, for those of you that don't, we had it translated for you. Wishing you all a Blessed and Happy Shavuot Holiday.
Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs shares his vision in these complicated times from the synagogue in Amersfoort.
Judaism has many traditions and laws.
But there is one law that remarkably doesn’t fall under the 613 commands and prohibitions.
It just doesn’t exist and that is the prohibition on being depressed.
What I mean is there are people that see everything darkly. They see everything in a negative way and don’t look for the positives. They always focus on the negative side. So why is there no law against this?
The answer to that question is, being depressed is not a violation but it stands higher (or lower) in a way than a regular law. Because it leads to the biggest of violations.
This perspective looks at everything that can go wrong. It’s like only looking at the negative potential side-effects of medicines and forgeting that the purpose of the medicine is to cure.
Such a way of life is not only one violation but is also the root for a lot of misery in mental health.
And because body and mind are connected, it also has effects on your body.
A negative and depressed attitude is a source of misery, mental and physical.
I wrote a column once about a tightrope walker. A tightrope walker shouldn’t look only upwards and blindly trust in the Eternal that all ‘it will be alright.‘ But equally only to look down into the abyss is not good.
There is a happy medium. A balance between up and down. Otherwise the tightrope walker will never make it to the other side.
In a way we are all tightrope walkers. All the time we need to find a balance between the Eternal and the fact that there is indeed an abyss.
Another point: A man grows up in the jungle. He knows nothing of the civilised world.
His view never got further than the trees and the jungle. His jungle. This man gets lost and arrives in a city.
He looks at everything. He walks around surprised. He walks into the door of a big building into the hallway, walks up the stars and goes unto the balcony. Below him he sees a large room. In that room men and women walking around with face masks on. On the wall he sees tools, saws, drills and more intruments.
In the middle of the hall stands a high long table. On that table lies a white sheet. Under that sheet a human foot stick out. A nod is given, and some men and women start to cut into it.
Blood sprays out and our man from the Jungle passes out. He has never seen something so sadistic. Of course, he ended up in the operating room of a hospital. The person on the table, in the hospital bed, was sick and was being cured by the doctor and the nurses. Our man sees only the painful operation. He does not know the context that that the patient was sick and is being cured by this operation.
Life is like an operation. There is something before and something after. But if we only witness the operation then that’s the only thing we see. What there was before and what comes after, removes itself completely from our vision.
More than ever, today we all feel that we are undergoing an operation.
Is it a punishment? A reward? Meaningful? Meaningless? It’s always good to keep a mirror in front of yourself. But to firmly embed yourself into feelings of guilt, putting yourself into a depressed condition, that should never happen.
We cannot understand life like our man from the Jungle.
Serve G-d with joy. Are we able to do that? Or a better question: can I do that?
A parable is told of 2 strong cool guys (someone like me). Both are standing at the foot of a mountain. Both have an empty burlap sack on their shoulders. The contest can start.
The starting gun is fired and both guys need to, while climbing, fill their sacks with rocks.
After 3 hours they have a same amount of rocks in their sacks. Both climbed to the same height. But one is pale and cannot clime any higher.
The other is singing with joy and walks with big steps. How is this possible? That one is so heavily burdened but the other does not feel it? Both have the same health and strength. Both have the same amount of rocks in their sacks. But the guy that cannot climb a single step further thinks he is carrying kilos of stupid rocks. The more rocks he is collecting, it gets heavier and heavier.
His buddy knows that it is not just rocks. Its precious stones and diamonds. The more diamonds he gets into his sack, the lighter and lighter it gets.
How do I choose to look at all the things that I am enduring in my life?
When I’m speaking to a lot of people as a rabbi, I learn a lot. People are in situations that are heavier than mine. But they take every load as a diamond. I learn from their strength and self-control.
They hold a mirror in front of me.
That is Judaism.
To learn from someone else.
And it’s also Judaism to see the heavy load not as it is.
It’s also Judaism that when you notice an unexpected a shortcoming in someone else, you are aware that it also can be present in you.
If you did not know that this shortcoming was what it is, you would not recognize it in yourself.
And at the same time, alertness.
Alertness of the rise in antisemitism that is far from vanished and vanquished.
Our minister of Justice and Security is also Minister of Worship.
And when I spoke to him about restarting our worship, he warned me about the lone wolf.
Especially during the pandemic. But it is also, alertness to the physical rules that should protect us against that terrible virus.
When we can go to shul, the church or the mosque, we shouldn’t just trust that everything will come from above.
Because when that tightrope walker only looks up, he won’t make it.
On Thursday we start the holiday of Shavuot. The Jewish people stood as one at the foot of the Sinai to receive the 10 commandments, the 613 mitzvot and the Torah in its totality.
They saw G-d. There was something in common and that brought them together. There was unanimity. For division, fights and tensions there was no room.
In this time of Coronavirus, it is not only the Jewish people that have something in common, but the whole of humanity: a common enemy. From it we should liberate ourselves. But it’s an enemy of everyone, without any form of discrimination.
Let us pray that that enemy will be beaten in our days, exterminated and that the unanimity that the virus has made, will stay.
May there be speedily in our days eternal shalom – peace - for the whole of humanity, real peace for everyone.
You can hear the words of Rabbi Jacobs in dutch HERE

Additional Articles

“Some Things Simply Should Not Be Traded” writes EU Jewish Head to Munich Auction House Ahead of Nazi Memorabilia Sale.

“Some Things Simply Should Not Be Traded” writes EU Jewish Head to Munich Auction House Ahead of Nazi Memorabilia Sale.

As Europe marked the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Chairman of the European Jewish Association Rabbi Menachem Margolin has had to write to a Munich Auction house asking them to cancel the sale of items belonging to infamous Nazis Hess, Goring, Himmler and Hitler himself.

Hermann Historica will be holding an auction on the 20th November that includes a number of pieces for sale from the Nazi leadership including framed photographs, silver dinner services, plates, letters and Jewellery belonging to Goring’s wife.

In his letter to the Auction House, Rabbi Margolin said:

“I am writing to respectfully ask you to withdraw the auction. This is not a legal appeal to you, but very much a moral one. What you are doing is not illegal, but it is wrong.

“I need not remind you of the many millions of lives lost as a result of national socialism, nor of the approximately six million Jewish lives that were lost due to mindless antisemitic hatred. This is history.

“Yet today, across Europe and including Germany (which now has the highest recorded cases in Europe), antisemitism in on the rise, and we believe the sale of such memorabilia has little intrinsic historical value but instead will be bought by those who glorify and seek to justify the actions of the greatest evil to affect Europe. The trade therefore in such items should simply not take place.

“In Israel recently there was a case of a letter written by a child murdered in the holocaust that was put up for sale. This went to court, and the ensuing public pressure resulted in the cancelling of the sale. The message from society was clear and unambiguous: some things simply cannot be traded.

“It is in this spirit of understanding that I ask you again to withdraw the Nazi auction items, again not because of any illegality, but instead to send a message that some things particularly when so metaphorically blood soaked, should not and must not be traded.” 

Rabbi Margolin letter:

Some of the items on sale can be viewed here

Meeting at the Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport of the Slovak Republic. 

Yesterday, on 29 October 2019, the European Jewish Association and our partners from the Action and Protection Foundation /Hungary/ have once again travelled abroad to meet with government officials regarding the European Curriculum and Textbook Project against Antisemitism. This time, our destination has been the Slovak capital of Bratislava, situated at the very heart of Europe, in-between the Danube and Morava rivers. 

Alex Benjamin, EJA’s Director of Public Affairs, Ferenc Olti, Board Member of the Hungarian Jewish Cultural Association, and Kálmán Szalai, APF’s Secretary, have met with Maria Prekop, Director General at the Department of Minorities and Inclusive Education, and Katarína Baranyaiová, Counsellor at the Department of Bilateral and Multilateral Cooperation of the Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport of the Slovak Republic. 

During the meeting, we have had a chance to present the project, its earlier implementation process and the results achieved in Hungary, as well as discuss the Slovak system of education, particularly its emphasis on minority inclusion and social dialogue, and thus briefly touch upon the project’s compatibility with the rules and customs already in place.

It has been agreed that our proposal shall be further carefully examined by the Ministry, with a special attention towards its operational feasibility in case of potential adaptation within the national curriculum.

We greatly appreciate the forthcomingness of the Slovak authorities and the very productive discussion with Ms. Prekop and Ms. Baranyaiová. We thus eagerly look forward to hopeful cooperation with the Ministry, the local Jewish community and other partners on this important initiative.

Rami Levy and Rabbinical Centre of Europe in Beautiful Tefillin Project

Multi-faceted Jerusalem businessman Rami Levy, best known for his chain of discount supermarkets, is helping to provide tefillin (phylacteries) and prayer shawls for needy European Jews.

Multi-faceted Jerusalem businessman Rami Levy, best known for his chain of discount supermarkets, is helping to provide tefillin (phylacteries) and prayer shawls for needy European Jews who do not possess these essential religious accoutrements and cannot afford to purchase them. Levy has made a very handsome contribution to the Rabbinical Center of Europe at the request of the organization’s CEO Rabbi Arye Goldberg, who initiated the tefillin project in memory of the late Rabbi Benjamin Wolf, the
spiritual leader of the Jewish community of Hanover, who fell victim to coronavirus two months ago. This is not the first time that Levy has been involved with the RCE. He continues to donate to another of its projects, which is to bring European bar mitzvah boys to Israel.

■ FOR THE past 38 years, Jeff Seidel has been running student information centers in Jerusalem as well as Shabbat and Jewish home hospitality for lone soldiers, students and tourists. It was very tough during lockdown, because there were tourists and students who had not left the country and there were plenty of lone soldiers. Things are a little easier now that restrictions have been relaxed and greater social interaction has been permitted. A lot of people are still wary of going to restaurants, weddings and bar mitzvahs, and there are some who are also very cautious about admitting guests to their homes. For those who want to get back into the swing of hosting guests on Shabbat and showing them the brighter side of Israel, Seidel can be contacted at (02) 638-2634 or 052-286-7795. Last Friday, Seidel managed at the last minute, to find Shabbat hospitality for a group of gap year students.
TRAGEDY IS one of the most unifying factors in Israeli society. Political and religious differences are put on the back burner as the nation comes together to help to hope, and too often, to grieve. That was the case six years ago when three teenage yeshiva boys Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Naftali Fraenkel unknowingly hitched a ride with Hamas terrorists, who kidnapped and murdered them.

The boys were standing outside Alon Shvut in the Etzion Bloc, waiting for a car that might be going their way.

For 18 agonizing days, the nation came together and joined the three families in praying for the safe return of the three boys.

Only after the discovery of their bodies was it learned that they had been killed soon after their capture. The nationwide outpouring of solidarity with the families during the waiting period, at the funeral and after the tragedy, prompted the creation of the annual Jerusalem Unity Prize.

Nir Barkat, who was then the mayor of Jerusalem, during a condolence visit to the families suggested that something be done to commemorate the three teenagers, and together with the Gesher organization and the three sets of parents – Iris and Uri Yifrah; Bat-Galim and Ofir Shaer; and Rachel and Avraham Fraenkel – in September, 2014, decided to establish the Jerusalem Unity Prize, with an official announcement to that effect at the President’s Residence in January, 2015.
Since then, the prize has awarded annually in June to individuals, organizations and initiatives in Israel and the Jewish world at large whose activities are instrumental in promoting mutual respect amongst Jews in times of crisis and in everyday life.

This year’s awards ceremony was broadcast on video with only President Rieuven Rivlin and his closest aides, Barkat and his wife Beverly, the prize winners and the Yifrah, Shaer and Fraenkel couples in attendance.

The ceremony was held against the backdrop of the coronavirus crisis and national political divisiveness over the possibility of proposed annexation or application of Israeli sovereignty on the Jordan Valley.

The prize ceremony, said Rivlin, sends a message of conciliation.

Speaking on behalf of the families, Uri Yifrah said that when the boys were still missing, before their fate was known Rabbi Haim Druckman told them: “We are looking for the boys and we have found ourselves.” Yifrah said: “That sense of looking inward finds what brings us closer together, an understanding of who we are, why we are here and how close we truly are.” He emphasized, “Alongside the disagreements and the differences of opinion, we must pause as individuals and examine whether, in the heat of the moment, we are not losing the great and true path we seek, which includes those with whom we do not agree. For he, too, seeks the good of our people. We go on together because that is our duty and that is how we will continue to build our country. The winners of the Unity Prize are those who know how to look inward, to bridge the gaps and to put what is important to the fore.”

The winners this year were: In the “local” category, the Center for Community Mediation and Dialogue in Rehovot for creating a space for respectful dialogue between the various elements of Israeli society and for leading the conversation on tolerance and acceptance of the other.

In the “national” category, the Joint Council of Pre-Military Academies (Mechinot) for their work to bring together different views and building trust between the member institutions for the good of the national mission of educating the next generation.

In the “international” category, Hakhel, the incubator for Jewish intentional communities for opening a door and building communities for every Jew, whoever and wherever they are, and for strengthening Jewish identity.
The article was published on the JPost

Greece Golden Dawn: Neo-Nazi leaders guilty of running crime gang

After a trial lasting more than five years, the leadership of Greece's neo-Nazi party has been convicted of running a criminal organisation.
Big crowds gathered outside the court in Athens as the judges gave verdicts on 68 defendants.
Golden Dawn secured 18 MPs in 2012, as Greeks were battered by a financial crisis.
The criminal inquiry into the party began with the murder of an anti-fascist musician in 2013.
Leader Nikos Michaloliakos and six colleagues were convicted of heading a criminal group. Supporter Giorgos Roupakias was found guilty of murdering an anti-racist musician and 15 others were convicted of conspiracy in the case.
Some 2,000 police were deployed around Athens Appeals Court as thousands of protesters demanded long jail terms, carrying banners that read "fear will not win" and "Nazis in prison", Greek media reported.
Tear gas was fired into the crowd as some of the protesters clashed with police and threw petrol bombs.
People gather outside the Athens courthouse, as they wait for the verdict of the trial of the ultra-right party Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avgi), in Athens
Eleven of the defendants were in the court when the verdict was read out, along with 50 attorneys and 50 journalists.
Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said the verdict was an important day for democracy and proof that Greek institutions were able to "fend off any attempt to undermine them".
Hundreds of witnesses gave evidence in the trial, which was delayed this year by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Who was on trial?
At the centre of the trial are Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos and 18 ex-MPs who were elected in 2012 when the neo-Nazi party came third in national elections on an anti-immigrant, nationalist platform. Golden Dawn no longer has any MPs in parliament.
After they won almost 7% of the vote in May 2012, emboldened supporters attacked political opponents and migrants.
Golden Dawn supporter Giorgos Roupakias had already confessed to the murder of rapper Pavlos Fyssas. The musician was chased down by thugs and stabbed in Piraeus in September 2013.
As the verdict was delivered, Fyssas's mother Magda cried out, "My Pavlos defeated them alone!".
What were the verdicts?
The key verdict on Wednesday was that Golden Dawn - Chrysi Avgi in Greek - was a criminal group. Its leadership was found guilty of running it.
They included Michaloliakos and six former MPs - Ilias Kasidiaris, Ioannis Lagos, Christos Pappas, Artemis Matthaiopoulos, Ilias Panagiotaros and Giorgos Germenis. The other ex-MPs were found guilty of joining a criminal organisation.
Magda Fyssa, mother of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas, who was murdered in 2013 by a member of Golden Dawn, reacts at the announcement of the ultra-right party Golden Dawn's (Chrysi Avgi) verdict.
The three judges, led by Maria Lepeniotou, were due to deliver sentencing later.
As well as the fatal stabbing of Pavlos Fyssas, defendants in the trial were also convicted of other violent attacks on migrants and left-wing political opponents.
Photo dated on June 24, 2012 of Pavlos Fyssas. The 34-year-old was fatally stabbed in the working-class Athens district of Keratsini early on September 18, 2013
Five Golden Dawn members were convicted of the attempted murders of Egyptian fishermen and four of the attempted murder of communist activists in the PAME union.
As the Golden Dawn leaders were convicted, very few inside the room applauded but outside thousands began to celebrate.
I felt very satisfied, of course. Because I knew the facts revealed during those five and a half years, and I was always optimistic.
From 2010, Golden Dawn had managed to poison the Greek political system and democratic institutions, securing contacts with the army, the police, the judiciary and the Church.
It is an excellent verdict.
Short presentational grey line
Who is their leader?
Nikos Michaloliakos founded the movement in the mid-1980s and was admirer of Nazism and a Holocaust denier, giving the Hitler salute at party rallies.
But he had always denied any knowledge of the Pavlos Fyssas murder. When police raided his home in 2013, they found weapons and ammunition.
Golden Dawn officially denied being a neo-Nazi movement, but its badge closely resembled a swastika, some senior members praised Adolf Hitler, and the clothing of choice at anti-immigrant protests was black T-shirts and combat trousers.
Witnesses told the trial that members were trained to handle weapons and used Nazi symbols.
Greece's Golden Dawn: 'Don't say a word or I'll burn you alive'
Jail fails to deter Greek far right
Greek bailout crisis in 300 words
Last December, chief prosecutor Adamantia Economou prompted uproar, with a call for the party officials to be cleared, arguing there was no evidence they had any part in planning or carrying out the series of attacks.
How has Greece reacted
There has been disgust at Golden Dawn across the political spectrum in Greece.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he would not normally comment on court decisions but said the Greek republic had first expelled Golden Dawn from parliament and now Greece's independent judiciary had acted too. "Democracy won today. It is up to us that it wins every day," he said.
The verdict was praised as "just" and "historic" by Prokopis Pavlopoulos, who was president of Greece until earlier this year.
Centre-left political leader Fofi Gennimata said the decision sent a strong message to Europe that "fascism has no place in our lives".
Nils Muiznieks of Amnesty International also said the trial sent a clear message: that "violent and racist criminal activity - whether perpetrated by individuals on the street or members of parliament - will not go unpunished".
Meanwhile, the Jewish cemetery in Athens was daubed this week with anti-Semitic graffiti and Nazi slogans, prompting condemnation from Greek ministers and the Jewish community.
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