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

December 11, 2020

Every Day during the Corona crisis our Advisory Board Member Chief Rabbi 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.
Here, the Rabbi offers his unique and refreshing take on the portion. For our Dutch readers you can follow the diary every day at NIW home page: https://niw.nl and then: scroll down.
Caught with a cap!
It's hard to find the right balance between exaggeration and naivety. The happy medium is the right way to walk, that should be clear. But where does that sweet spot lie?
I had not heard from an older intelligent lady, a brave woman, for several weeks. And so I called her up and it turned out that she had been struggling a bit with her health for a while.
Good that I called her, but I do feel guilty that I had only noticed her absence now, after a few weeks. In the meantime, since I called her, she has started reading some of my diaries and sends me the following response:
“Dear Rabbi Jacobs. I read in your diary pieces that you meet many people with personal problems and are very concerned about the rising anti-Semitism. That seems very difficult. I find it terrible to read those experiences. It's too much for me. And after the war I had to hear in technicolour stereo about all the horrors of survivors of the camps. For me, the war started after May ‘45. I'd rather not read all that misery you have to hear and deal with. ”
And so, after this response, I wonder what the happy medium is. I try to warn against  rising anti-Semitism, but I absolutely must. Conversely I do not want to cause more pain to anyone who is already in pain.
I received a lot of WhatsApps to make "the Jewish voice" heard about the riot around Forum for Democracy. But what is "the Jewish voice"? And am I then "the Jewish  voice"? But keep silent? I presented my problem to a good friend of mine, a non-Jewish psychiatrist. When I open my mouth, some of them start to scream or I, for example hurt this brave woman unnecessarily. And when I remain silent, I get complaints that I am not speaking. His response was very clear:
“If you don't open your mouth now, you're no longer a rabbi to me. And if your comments make people sad, help them. That is your primary task as a rabbi. ”
But in addition to concerns about rising anti-Semitism and all the tensions associated with it, Hanukkah is getting very close. Today a phone call from Jerusalem to make a video while lighting the menorah at my house, without guests, with a call to light the menorah outside even if it is not possible outside due to corona, especially to do it indoors.
The call must be in Dutch after lighting the third light. A second phone call, also today, from Brussels to, even after the third light has been lit, a message in English about a non-religious subject, but about Hanukkah.
And the third assignment, a request came from South America to give a speech in Dutch of 25 minutes. That will be asked of another seven Chief Rabbis. Every evening a rabbi from another country will speak and subtitles will be provided. Apart from this I also have three TV recordings about… Chanukah next week! After all those telephone requests for TV, zoom, videos, Whatsapps and YouTube, I wonder if I could become a better director.
But in the meantime I will have to work very hard on the preparations for the coming week. I have already found a volunteer professional to record the videos. But the words are on me. That is a nice bit of creative tension.
Yet all these problems create tension, sadness and disappointment. It got a bit too much for me. And so I skipped schul tonight. My wife and I took the car to the beach.
Of course I didn't wear my hat, but a cap. Just incognito. Get some fresh air. Delicious! We walk on the boulevard for less than twenty minutes, smell the water, feel the wind or suddenly someone behind me shouts: Rabbi Jacobs! Why don't you wear a hat? You always say that we should not give in to anti-Semitism and keep our Jewish clothing like our ancestors in Egypt. You always say you are not willing to exchange your hat for a baseball cap! I didn't know what to answer for a moment, I felt caught with my cap, but the walk was very refreshing…
 

Additional Articles

Mogherini in a letter to EJA Chairman: "I have a personal obligation to fight anti-Semitism"

European Union Foreign Minister, Federica Mogherini To the Chairman of the Union of Jewish Organizations in Europe (EJA), Rabbi Menachem Margolin:
"I have a personal obligation to fight anti-Semitism. We must fight every day against those who harm or show contempt for the memory of the Holocaust "
In light of the growing controversy with the Polish government with regards to the Holocaust Bill, EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini wrote to Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman of the Union of Jewish Organizations in Europe (EJA), stating her personal commitment to target and combat anti-Semitism.
In a personal letter sent by Mogherini to Rabbi Margolin, she said: "The struggle against anti-Semitism is a personal goal for me. It is 70 Years sonce the Holocaust and manifestations of anti-Semitism and hate crimes are on the rise again in Europe. The European Union cannot exist without the memory of the Holocaust and certainly cannot exist without the Jews of the continent. " "It is important that our children learn about the Holocaust in schools and visit the camps in order to understand the enormity of the atrocities and to ensure that they never return," she said.
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman of the Union of Jewish Organizations in Europe (EJA), expressed great appreciation for Mrs Mogherini’s continuing personal commitment to the struggle against anti-Semitism and to preserve Holocaust memory, but warned that "the struggle against anti-Semitism and the memory of the Holocaust cannot be detached from the current political climate in the continent . Only in recent weeks have we been witness not only to attempts to damage the memory of the Holocaust from the ruling party in Poland, but also to attempts to enact laws banning circumcision (Iceland) or imposing scandalous restrictions on kosher slaughter (Poland), severely harming freedom of religion and the very fabric of Jewish life throughout the continent - Principles that are the guiding principles of the European Union, but which the EU is still not doing enough to safeguard and to prevent such legislation. "

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

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
Diary October 26, 2020
This is, and sometimes I forget the fact, a diary in corona time. I felt that ‘corona time’ particularly today. It is not only the nagging feeling of uncertainty, but also the media that never stop talking about it and, naturally enough, the discussion within the Jewish community itself.
Incidentally, that discussion taking place both within and outside of the Jewish community will be completely identical.
I think we have roughly three schools of thought on Covid 19. The ultra-orthodoxy, the moderates and the apostates.
Ultra-Orthodoxy almost compulsively adheres to the rules, does not take any risks and tries to convince others to live in isolation.
The apostates think everything is nonsense. Nobody knows anyway and you cannot prevent it, and it is all chronically exaggerated.
I count myself among the second school of thought, the moderates, who try to stay calm, not to exaggerate, but who refuse to downplay reality. But there was a crack this morning in that staying calm. And then what do I do? I WhatsApp’ed my professor. Who is my professor? The husband of a former student with whom I have regular contact about all kinds of things, but especially about legal matters. Just an example of such a contact: that former student of mine, now a middle-aged lawyer, has a bit of the same problem as I do.
She can't say no! And so, when I have something on my mind again, I get her on speed dial.
Years ago, I met an old man who was quite young at heart. He looked like my grandfather in appearance. He was one of the few who survived Auschwitz as a child. He was friendly, easy-going, reliable. The kind of person I wouldn’t think twice about asking to bring € 100,000 in cash from A to B.
However, he had a tricky problem: he had a habit of stealing! Not just because, but only when he needed something. This is how he managed to survive Auschwitz.
After the war, as I have written before, the welcome-home-in-the Netherlands was not always warm (understatement!). His parents had been murdered, he had no family and he had no possessions, no roof over his head and no form of income. And so, if he needed anything, clothing or food, he continued his learned survival technique and had no qualms about stealing.
And now he got caught. He had, if I remember correctly, Fl. 4000 received from the WUV, the Persecution Victims Benefit Act (a fund paid in compensation by Germany for Dutch Jewish citizens who suffered under the Nazis), for the purchase of an electrically adapted disabled car. He had managed to get that car for Fl. 2000 (cash, no receipts) and the remaining Fl. 2000 he had put in his pocket. Busted! And so, a lawsuit. I engaged my former student and there we stood in the courtroom in front of three honourable people in togas.
At the request of the defendant's lawyer, my former student, I was asked to say a few words at the very end of the trial. Your Honour, I can still hear myself say, of course theft is punishable. You have a duty to enforce the law. But do you realize that the same legal system that correctly indicates that the defendant did something against the law, do you realize that the same system sent him to Auschwitz?
And to the representative of the fund, who was present as plaintiff, I said that I refuse to understand how, as the body responsible for making amends, he would take it into his head (I had phrased it a little more sharply) to give this survivor the indignity of standing in court. The judges got it: immediate acquittal.
That former student is now a mother and married to a professor. And that's my professor. We actually only know each other via WhatsApp and telephone, have never had any real contact, but he is now my point of contact for all information about corona. What is nonsensical conspiracy theory and what is correct. Where the boundary between ultra-Orthodox, moderate and apostate actually lies.
And so, this morning, when I was just at a low ebb and contemplating switching from moderate to ultra-orthodox, it just took a WhatsApp to my medical spiritual counsellor the professor, and see, I am one of the moderates again.
I do feel the link to the war strongly. I am beginning to realize that our Lockdown is in no way comparable to the two years and eight months that my father was locked up, without a laptop, without a phone, without any contact with the outside world that was life-threatening. I feel guilty that I never felt that. I now understand very well that my father, like almost all fathers of my generation, never mentioned their Lockdown.
They couldn't and wouldn't talk about it. After the death of my dear and sensible father, I wanted to talk to his niece, Aunt Wies, who was also at the same hiding address, about their period in hiding. Please, she said, don't do this to me. I can't and don't want to think about it!
But because my professor, who is always available for me and regularly calls me back from the operating theatre, had put me back on the right mental track, I was able to quietly answer a number of phone calls from people who sought support from me. And there were more than usual today, unfortunately.

European Jews face new threat in wake of COVID-related anti-Semitism

Top European rabbi tells Israel Hayom a special center to monitor real-time incidents via remote feeds could be established in order to tackle anti-Jewish attacks.
The recent terrorist attacks in Austria and France, as well as the spike in coronavirus cases in Europe, has created a fear among Jews in the continent that anti-Semitic conspiracy theories blaming Jews for the spread of the pandemic could become mainstream.
 
A recent study in Germany showed that one in three Germans has somewhat of a conspiratorial view of the world.
 
Felix Klein, who is the federal commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and the fight against anti-Semitism, told Israel Hayom that the recent protests against the COVID-19 regulations have become fertile ground for anti-Jewish sentiment.
 
"The current protests against corona-related restrictions serve as a rallying point for antisemites, Holocaust deniers, and believers in conspiracy myths. At "hygiene protests", participants downplay the Holocaust by, for example, comparing the current requirement to wear a face mask with the obligation to wear a Star of David during the Nazi regime," he told Israel Hayom. "Portraying themselves as rebels – as do for example the supporters of the new political party Widerstand2020 (Resistance2020) and the Reichsbürger movement – is typical of adherents to anti-Semitic beliefs: Presenting oneself as breaking taboos, as 'finally' bringing the truth to light, as showing at last who is pulling the strings behind the scenes – and, as has been done for thousands of years, pointing their fingers once again at Jews," he added.
 
When asked about the danger posed by such conspiratorial views, he noted that there is a concern verbal statements could eventually morph into action.
 
"Conspiracy myths also prepare the ground for violence, as history has shown. Those who perceive themselves as victims and feel threatened can themselves turn into a threat. Anti-Jewish pogroms throughout history have been the fatal consequence of such obsessive hatred of Jews, as have the antisemitic terrorist attacks worldwide in recent years," he said. "A recent study has shown that radicalization online takes place four times faster than offline. That is what makes it so important to quickly adjust our laws. This is the thrust of the package of measures put forward by the federal government. I am confident we can achieve a lot through a combination of repression and education. After all, what is ultimately at stake is social cohesion in times of crisis."

Meanwhile, Jewish groups have scrambled to deal with the threat of rising anti-Semitism in the age of coronavirus. The group "Concert – Together for Israel" strives to bolster Israel's image and fight modern anti-Semitism, says its job has been made much more difficult in the wake of the pandemic, and many pro-Israel groups are facing potential elimination.
 
"Generally speaking, one can say that small organizations that rely on a small staff expect a slowdown and a long recovery, but the big organizations that need a large operation worry about their long-term viability in light of the added costs," Nava Edelstein, the group's program director says.
 
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the head of the Brussels-based European Jewish Association that has led a comprehensive effort to counter anti-Semitism in Europe, told Israel Hayom that he has been overseeing a "virtual command center" that gets daily updates from Jewish communities on online anti-Jewish attacks.
 
"We constantly see how anti-Semitic voices on the web attribute the virus to a Zionist-Jewish conspiracy, on top over other forms of anti-Semitism that involve graffiti and vandalizing of Jewish institutions," he said, adding the largest volume of reports originates in France, Romania and Belgium.
 
"We are considering setting up a center that would monitor events through Jewish communities' video feeds in real time, so that we can alert security forces when such incidents happen," he revealed.
The article was published in Israel Hayaom

Czech parliament and Moldova adopt IHRA definition of anti-Semitism

The Czech parliament’s Speaker Radek Vondracek expressed the hope that this action will help Czech authorities to be able to deal effectively with hate crimes.
PRAGUE—The parliament of the Czech Republic and Moldova this week endorsed the working definition of anti-Semitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
The endorsement occurred ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January.
The Czech parliament’s Speaker Radek Vondracek expressed the hope that this action will help Czech authorities to be able to deal effectively with hate crimes.
According to the IHRA, “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Anti-Semitism in the Czech Republic is at a relatively low level. Czech President Milos Zeman is a close ally of Israel.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder praised the Czech Parliament.
“Czech lawmakers have taken a principled and important step  in recognizing that antisemitism is a prevailing problem that must be tackled head-on and in a universal fashion.’’
‘’The Czech Republic is certainly on the correct path, for which we are both grateful and encouraged, but there is still much work to be done. The problem of antisemitism cannot be resolved without proper recognition of the issue at hand, encoding of proper methods to contend, and enforcement of this mechanism across the board,’’
Last week, Moldova also endorsed the IHRA definition, while the European Union did it in December.
The Moldovan government has committed itself to fight antisemitism, protect its Jewish community and preserve Holocaust memory, including with the creation of a Museum of Jewish History in the Republic of Moldova.
The article was published on European Jewish Press

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