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

May 11, 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

9½ = 4

A few days ago, I received a phone call from Israel from M who claimed he was many years ago in school with one of my children. He was not the brightest of the class, but he always received high marks for Jewish subjects due to his diligence and good behavior. He called me to wish me many more years because of Sjawoe’ot and proudly informed me that he has recently obtained his education diploma and now supervises children with learning disabilities. I remember being shocked at the time that one of the mothers told me that M’s 9½ should actually have been a 4 and not comparable to her son’s 8.
There is no doubt that Torah study is of mayor importance. After all, we Jews are the People of the Book, of “learning”, daily and through the ages. And yet Judaism is not about the acquired knowledge. Judaism is not science, and “learning” is not studying. A high level of knowledge is not a proof of a high level of commitment.
When traveling on a train journey we know beforehand what station we want to step out.  And when we leave the train, it’s visible to everybody what the destination was.
That too is the way a good book works. In the title of the book, the beginning, in fact, the entire content is included.  And at the very end, in the last sentence or in the last word, the conclusion becomes clear and visible.
The Torah starts with the history of Creation. And our great explainer Rasjie asks an obvious question: Why does the Torah starts with the story of Creation? The Five Books of Moses are primarily intended for the Jewish People and we can only speak of the Jewish People after the Exodus from Egypt when the Torah was received on Mount Sinai. Wouldn’t it have made more sense if the Torah had started with this episode and not with the creation of the world?  And Rasjie answers his own question as follows: before we start studying the Torah, we must realize and accept that there is a Creator!
The last sentence of the whole Thora tells us how Moshe broke the stone Tablets of the Ten Commandments and G’d is grateful to him for that deed! Isn’t that strange! Is this the most suitable sentence to finish the Thora?  And what was the course of Moshe breaking the Tablets which were literally a gift from Heaven? When Moshe saw that the Jews, his people, had forgotten G’d and worshiped the Golden Calf, shouldn’t he better have put aside the Tablets, go to his people and addressed them admonishing and then took back the Tablets. Why smash them? And why was G’d so pleased with Moshe’s destructive act?
And again, the same answer as to the question about the story of Creation: if the Jews no longer wanted to follow Hashem our G’d Who brought them out of Egypt and instead focused on idolatry, the Torah became totally worthless and the Tablets had nothing left to offer.
The Torah is not a goal, but a means. The means to serve G’d and survive as a Jewish nation. And that’s why the Torah starts and ends with that thought.
If we are aware that the Torah is the means, then we can start “learning”. And it is not about the
9½ or the 4, not about a high or a low IQ. It is about commitment, real piety and sincerity. Torah is a means, and those who see Torah as the goal they better go to study something else.
Many good, prosperous and healthy years   
גוט יום טוב
Binyomin Jacobs, chief rabbi
Sjawoe’ot 5781

Additional Articles

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Respuestas inesperadas sobre los mejores países europeos para los judíos – Estudio

(JTA) — El sentimiento antisemita prevalece especialmente en Italia y Hungría, según múltiples encuestas. Pero un índice único en su tipo que combina diferentes medidas de la experiencia judía encontró que también son los mejores países europeos para que vivan los judíos.

CNAAN LIPHSHIZ

El índice, presentado el lunes, se basa en un estudio que combina datos de encuestas e información de políticas para crear una métrica única de calidad de vida para los judíos en los 12 países de la Unión Europea con comunidades judías considerables, según Daniel Staetsky, estadístico de la Institute for Jewish Policy Research, con sede en Londres, que escribió el informe para la Asociación Judía Europea en Bruselas.

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It was a Boiling Hot Sauna! - Chief Rabbi Jacobs

It was a boiling hot sauna!
This week we are in the days of Selichot, days of preparation for the Jamiem Noraim, the Days of awe, preceding the festival of the Jewish New Year.
Awe is of great importance, because if there is a lack of ‘awe’, a society just goes in the wrong direction. This thought came to my mind when I was present in Westerbork, former Dutch deportationcamp to welcome the cyclists who had participated in “Back to Westerbork”. Tears welled up in my eyes. All young people who had made the journey from Auschwitz to Westerbork, én route had visited the various concentration camps, other places of horror and were now back in Westerbork. Awe! Lack of awe can lead to anarchy. But submitting to a wrong authority can lead to what happened in WWII. Eighty percent of my family ended up in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Sobibor via Westerbork! And now some 70 young people were cycling there, giving a stern warning about the dangers of submission to a wrong authority. Young people from Germany, the Netherlands and Poland. To my right a German Minister, to my left the ambassador of Poland and the King’s Commissioner in the province of Drenthe was also emphatically present, Mrs Jetta Klijnsma. What a powerful woman! I was delighted and grateful that my speech and the sounds of the shofar were clearly heard and penetrated. As I sit here typing, I feel a lump in my throat. I would like to embrace all those cyclists with gratitude for their great performance and especially for the hard demonstration. Yes, every morning in these days before the Awe-inspiring days of Jewish New Year I get up earlier to say extra prayers, but this gathering was all encouragement and awe-inspiring. A hot shower! I also felt that warm shower this morning in Ede where a meeting was organized by a group of faithful Christians.
In October 2020, representatives of various denominations at the Israeli embassy in The Hague had pleaded guilty for the churches’ negligence towards Jews before, during and after World War II. Now that antisemitism is unfortunately on the rise again, the right question has arisen as to what attitude the churches will adopt at the beginning of the 21st century. Therefore, representatives of churches organized an appeal meeting to speak on this subject. Speakers included Israel’s ambassador, Z.E.N. Gilon and my person. It was clear that those present are pro-Israel. But it also became clear, and I myself have expressed this very emphatically, that the love for Israel is diminishing among the church youth. This concerns me, a concern shared by those in attendance. And yet the symposium was a hot shower, so hot shower number two. I experienced the third shower on Urk, a former island, which is know for its love and support for Israel. In the Town Hall, the ambassador of Israel, two representatives of Christians for Israel and the undersigned, were received by the mayor and his aldermen. Why were we at the Town Hall? From 14:00 to 22:00 there was a magnificent afternoon and evening for ‘The entrepreneurship platform of Christians for Israel’ on Urk.  Of course the ambassador was present again, whom I met there for the third time that day. In the afternoon, the 180 attendees were split in two. Group one was given a tour of the fishing company DaySeaDay and group two was shown around the alleys of Urk. More than €140,000 was raised that evening for the construction of a youth center in Jerusalem. What warmth, what friendship, what enthusiasm and what a honor and how unique that I, as Chief Rabbi, could be a part of such a gathering. Music, a Zoom connection with Israel, a dinner (for Blouma and for me kosher of course) and inspiring speeches. But if you expect me to call this evening the third hot shower, you are wrong! It was not a hot shower, but a boiling hot sauna!


During the corona time, Chief Rabbi Jacobs keeps a diary for the Jewish Cultural
Quarter. NIW publishes these special documents on https://niw.nl/category/dagboek/

European Commission produces practical handbook on implementing the IHRA definition of antisemitism

The EJA thanks the European Commission for producing this practical handbook on implementing the IHRA definition of antisemitism. It will be a valuable tool for governments and organisations who are currently navigating the difficult political waters we find ourselves in, where intolerance and antisemitism are alarmingly on the rise.

Letter of Support for Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi

Your Excellency Madam President Von Der Leyen,

In response to accusations against European Commissioner for Neighborhood & Enlargement, Mr Várhelyi, and calls for his resignation, we would like to make the following statement.

Following the horrific and inhumane terror attacks against civilians in Israel on 7 October, which shocked the whole world, Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi posted on social media the decision for urgent review of the entire Palestinian development portfolio, on 9 October 2023. Hundreds of innocent women, children and elderly people were killed in terrifying circumstances or taken as hostages.

The Commissioner is accused of “offense to EU’s institutions and their democratic functioning”, by claiming that his “actions undermine not only the image of our institutions, but the trust that EU citizens put in the Commission”. Whilst, in fact, his actions are the ones defending and protecting both our fundamental values and moral compass, and also vis-a-vis trust by EU citizens.

Antisemitic attacks and calls to harm Jewish people have risen by 1200% here in Europe and both national governments and EU institutions have to take action. These are staggering and deeply distressing numbers.

The announcement by Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi was particularly welcomed by all our communities, as he very correctly stated “there can be no business as usual”. “The scale of terror and brutality… is a turning point” and it has to be.

Germany review of Palestinian development aid

On 8 October, German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, H.E. Ms Svenja Schulze, announced that the “attacks on Israel mark a terrible fracture”. “We will now review our entire engagement for the Palestinian territories.”

Austria development aid suspended

On the 9th of October, prior to the Commissioner’s post, the Austrian Minister for Foreign

Affairs, H.E. Mr Alexander Schallenberg announced that “We will put all payments of Austrian development cooperation on hold” and sharply criticised states that refuse to classify Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

Sweden’s aid to Palestine suspended

On 10 October, Sweden Minister for International Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, H.E. Mr Johan Forssell, stated, “We have a new situation after the 7th of October”. “Our decision today is that Sweden will … pause development aid to Palestine until further notice.”

Denmark development aid on hold

The same day, Denmark Minister for Development Cooperation and Global Climate Policy, H.E.

Mr Dan Jørgensen, confirmed that Danish development assistance to Palestine will be placed “on hold”. “Unacceptable acts, terrorism and aggression of the worst kind have happened, and we must be naturally be very sure that Danish money is not indirectly supporting that”.

The social media post by Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi was made after a truly unprecedented and deadly terrorist massacre. It followed the lead of a number of countries and the strong condemnation of the terror attacks by world leaders. Both national governments and EU institutions share very legitimate concerns as Hamas has turned agricultural and irrigation equipment, which was paid by European funds, into weapons to attack civilians, and used cement that was meant for living quarters to build death tunnels to expand its terror activities.

As Jewish organisations which represent thousands of European citizens, we believe the accusations against Commissioner Várhelyi are politically motivated and display a breathtaking and appalling insensitivity to the horrendous and barbaric loss of human life.

At a truly unprecedented time, when Europe must be united against terrorism, it is nothing less than shameful that there exist those who prefer instead to try and score cheap political points on the graves of the dead and on the hundreds of hostages still in terrorist captivity.

Were a reminder needed of what we are all up against, last night the same type of terrorism struck the heart of Europe in Brussels claiming two utterly innocent lives, this follows, of course, the brutal murder of a teacher in Arras, France.

Commissioner Varheyli enjoys the full and unyielding support of European Jewry for his noble stand, a stand that sadly is possessed by far too few political leaders in the face of atrocity, barbarism and an assault on the very European values that we all hold so dear to our hearts.

Yours sincerely,

Rabbi Menachem Margolin Founder and Chairman European Jewish Association

Joël Mergui Chairman of EJA Jewish Leaders’ Board President of Consistoire of Paris, France President of European Centre of Judaism

Baroness Régine Suchowolski – Sluszny EJA Jewish Leaders’ Board Vice-Chairwoman for Holocaust Remembrance and President of Forum of Jewish Organisations, Belgium

Ellen Van Praagh-van Aspert EJA Jewish Leaders’ Board Vice-Chairwoman for Equity and Diversity, and President of IPOR Jewish Communities, The Netherlands

Andrew Cohen FCA EJA Jewish Leaders’ Board Vice-Chairman for UK President, Federation of Synagogues, UK

Riccardo Pacifici EJA Jewish Leaders’ Board Vice-Chairman for Italy and Jewish Heritage

Alexander Benjamin EJA Jewish Leaders’ Board Vice-Chairman for Advocacy, European Jewish Association

Gabriel Senderowicz Mold EJA Jewish Leaders’ Board Member

EJA Jewish Leaders’ Board Member Chairman of Board of The Social & Cultural Association of Jews in Poland (TSKZ) Portugal

Yaron Zeloof EJA Jewish Leaders’ Board Member President of the Jewish Community of Cyprus

 

 

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