COVID Diary- Reflections from Our Advisory Board Member Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs

April 9, 2021

Every Day during the Corona crisis our Advisory Board Member Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs (NL) writes a diary, on request of the Jewish Cultural Quarter in Amsterdam, which is published on the website of the NIW, the only Jewish Dutch Magazine. Rabbi Jacobs is the head of Inter Governmental Relationships at the Rabbinical Centre of Europe. We will be regularly publishing a selection of his informative, sometimes light hearted, but always wise pieces.
For our Dutch readers you can follow the diary every day at NIW home page: https://niw.nl
Holocaust Memorial Day, Yom Hashoah. I didn't intend to pay attention to it, I didn't even really want to think about it, but I was suddenly, as it were, overpowered by recognition, anger and great concern. I am often accused of paying too much attention to the war and to anti-Semitism. Catherine Keyl has recently written a book entitled "War Father". Her father, a Jewish resistance fighter, had and at the same time had not survived Sacksenhausen.
And then, at the end of his life, when his leg needs to be amputated and Catherine asks a psychiatrist to tell her father that his leg is going to be taken off, the young psychiatrist shows no empathy whatsoever in the world of a man who is in hell. Who had to carry the concentration camps with him all his life and now, demented, thinks that 'they will still get him' because his leg has to be taken off and he will therefore not be able to flee. And at the same time, I get a wonderful email from Holocaust survivor Nechamah Mayer after reading my diary. I quote her:
“Dear Binyomin. I read your diary in one go during the Passover season. I noticed that in the last chapters you talked more and more about anti-Semitism. As if it keeps getting worse. Or did you simply get more courage to point out to the reader how bad it has become? I thought the black pages with quotes were a nice layout. I am going to pass on the book, because it must be widely read. Wishing you many readers. Nechamah.”
By her encouraging words and having seen a video about the position of the HH doctors in Nazi Germany, I feel obliged to completely ignore the criticism of a younger colleague. He is of the opinion that I should not talk about anti-Semitism. He probably does not realize that much too much was kept silent before the war. It would be okay, the Allies were coming, a bit of work in the East… But it didn't work out!
Fifty percent of the doctors in Germany cooperated in the destruction. Psychiatrists judged who could and could not live and convinced the large crowd that the Final Solution was ethically wholly justified! Germans, non-Jews, with a physical defect and a psychiatric disorder were eliminated for causing damage to the beautiful Aryan race and an economic burden. Last night I was on a zoom run by a pastor in Dokkum.
I was interviewed for ten minutes. I was not informed about what, but the subject became anti-Semitism and Yom Hashoah. I was asked at the end of the interview whether I had a message for all participants. My message became a request. An urgent request: I ask all participants to become my ambassadors and to announce to everyone they see or speak what happened then.
In fact, I don't see any evidence that anti-Semitism has been eradicated. Light shines at the end of the corona tunnel. But the virus called anti-Semitism has an endless tunnel. Is there no light then? Yes, the coming of the Moshiach. We long for that, we have been eagerly looking forward to it for centuries. But in the meantime we need to realize the current reality. Beppie Caneel lived not far from us. Beppie had survived the Auschwitz experiment barracks. She was always cheerful. Couldn't have any more children, of course, but she really survived with her sister. My wife took her to the hospital for some examinations. She had to roll up her sleeve. The doctor then asked her in surprise what those numbers were on her arm. Thank God Beppie was hard of hearing… A doctor who I assume not only studied medicine but also had general training. "What are those numbers on your arm?"
And that younger colleague of mine complains that I should especially not talk about the war and anti-Semitism. No, above all we must remain silent about the then, about the now and of course about tomorrow. I receive a video, you have to click it because "Am Yisrael Chai - the Jewish People are alive!" in spite of everything, but alertness is required. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOWCgKVQE5M
Yes, today I also taught Jewish (zoom) to a regular weekly group. And yes, I also placed my signature on a rabbinical statement. And yes, I held a pastoral conversation and listened to someone for almost two hours about his difficult engagement with the topic. But Holocaust Memorial Day - Yom Hashoah reigns. I thought of all those family members of mine that I have not known at all and of which I know nothing because my parents wanted to spare me grief. I look at those two silver cups in our glass case. It has the names: Bernhard and Siegmund engraved on them. They were my father's cousins.
Only those two cups are left of themselves, their wives. their children ... And anti-Semitism is on the rise again.

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300 French personalities sign manifesto against 'new anti-Semitism'

More than 300 French dignitaries and stars have signed a manifesto denouncing a "new anti-Semitism" marked by "Islamist radicalisation" after a string of killings of Jews, to be published in Le Figaro newspaper Sunday.

The country's half-a-million-plus Jewish community is the largest in Europe but has been hit by a wave of emigration to Israel in the past two decades, partly due to the emergence of virulent anti-Semitism in predominantly immigrant neighbourhoods.
"We demand that the fight against this democratic failure that is anti-Semitism becomes a national cause before it's too late. Before France is no longer France," reads the manifesto co-signed by politicians from the left and right including ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy and celebrities like actor Gerard Depardieu.
The signatories condemned what they called a "quiet ethnic purging" driven by rising Islamist radicalism particularly in working-class neighbourhoods.
They also accused the media of remaining silent on the matter.
"In our recent history, 11 Jews have been assassinated -- and some tortured -- by radical Islamists because they were Jewish," the declaration said.
The murders referenced reach as far back as 2006 and include the 2012 deadly shooting of three schoolchildren and a teacher at a Jewish school by Islamist gunman Mohammed Merah in the southwestern city of Toulouse.
Three years later, an associate of the two brothers who massacred a group of cartoonists at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo killed four people in a hostage-taking at a Jewish supermarket in Paris.
In April 2017, an Orthodox Jewish woman in her sixties was thrown out of the window of her Paris flat by a neighbour shouting "Allahu Akhbar" (God is greatest).
The latest attack to rock France took place last month when two perpetrators stabbed an 85-year-old Jewish woman 11 times before setting her body on fire, in a crime treated as anti-Semitic.
Her brutal death sent shockwaves through France and prompted 30,000 people to join a march in her memory.
Condemning the "dreadful" killing, President Emmanuel Macron had reiterated his determination to fighting anti-Semitism.
"French Jews are 25 times more at risk of being attacked than their fellow Muslim citizens," according to the manifesto.
It added that some 50,000 Jews had been "forced to move because they were no longer in safety in certain cities and because their children could no longer go to school".
The article was published in The Local

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Brussels mayor cleans memory stones with Antwerp survivor in the Holocaust Remembrance Day

The mayor of Brussels Philippe Close cleaned some pavement stones of the Belgian capital this Wednesday afternoon, April 27. They were not simple stones, though. They were "Stolpersteine", known in English as stumbling stones: each engraved brass block is dedicated to the memory of a victim of the Nazi regime, usually placed in front of the victim’s former residence.

"These stones are very important for Brussels, because they are not only figures, they are names, they are families, children, men, women. They lived in this neighbourhood. And these pavements are very symbolic of the people who lived here,” said Close to Belga News Agency.

“We do it together with the European delegation of the Jewish community, but also throughout the territory of Brussels, with this symbolic act. It’s very important to show that in Brussels everybody has a place," added the mayor.

In Brussels, the cleaning event was organized by the European Jewish Association (EJA) to commemorate the Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) that this year started Wednesday evening April 27 through Thursday April 28.

"We have to remember all those who did not come back from Auschwitz. And one of the manners to do it is the Stolpersteine that we clean today,” explained Régine Suchowolski-Sluszny, Belgian Holocaust survivor from Antwerp.

“Because a lot of people do not have a place where they are buried, because they burnt,” added Régine with emotion. “It has to go on living on everybody’s soul that these people were murdered for nothing. Only because they had a Jewish mother,” she said to Belga News Agency.

Gratitude to Belgians

According to Regine, who presides the Jewish Organization in Flanders (FJO) in Antwerp, the Belgian people saved about 5000 Jewish children from the nazi regime. “50% of the Jewish people living in Belgium were saved. If you compare it to Holland, there was not even 20%. So the Belgian people did a very good job and we have to be grateful for that.”

In her speech at the opening event at the Jewish Museum of Belgium, she reminded the Belgian Christian couple that helped her family to scape the nazis, loved her and took care of her until she could reunite with her parents. She was only two years and a half then.

Régine defends that people should stand up against all forms of hate, intolerance and anti-Semitism. “People have to denounce it and not accept what is going on today,” she said to Belga News Agency.

“The world has to remember what happened. And we see today, sadly enough, that other people are suffering again; it’s not the same, because we can’t compare the Shoah to anything else, but too many people are suffering today and people are forgetting too quickly even what happened one hundred years ago,” Regine remarked.

Shining memory

In total, 90.000 stones can be found in Europe, from Spain to Finland. They were conceived by the German artist Gunter Demnig in 1993 and today the initiative follows up the international student-led "Make Their Memory Shine" movement, aiming to clean all Stolpersteine in a “pro-active manner”, mixing commemoration, volunteering and education.

The Chairman of the EJA rabbi Menachem Margolim, reminded that the nazis forced Jewish people to clean the streets.

“Today we clean the stones of the streets to make the memory of those Jewish people shine,” he said.
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