Interview with our director of public affairs, Alex Benjamin 

December 17, 2019

Watch Romano Bolkovic interview with our director of public affairs, Alex Benjamin for 1 na 1.
An interesting depth discussion on Jewish life in Europe, the role of the EU and reflections on Brexit.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIWO_pgKM_Q&app=desktop&fbclid=IwAR2SgrBlMHSH-V6WHJnl6hFh88-ZMqqsv2dZjBu9t_hIrH34NCaZ4WA2A7I

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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 are breathing a sigh of relief after Corbyn lost'

Chief of European Jewish Association celebrates Corbyn's election defeat. 'This election wasn't about right vs left, it was right vs wrong.'
With the results of the UK's general election Thursday pointing to a decisive victory for the Conservative Party and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Chairman of the Brussels-based European Jewish Association said that Jews across the continent would be breathing a collective sigh of relief at the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chief of the European Jewish Association, which represents hundreds of Jewish communities across the continent, said Jewish opposition to Corbyn was not partisan.
“I want to be clear that we are a non-partisan organisation. We have no political affiliation. Nor do we endorse or advocate for the UK Conservative Party," said Rabbi Margolin.
“The potential election of Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister for us and the vast majority of Jews was not a story of left or right, but about what is right and what is wrong."
“The election to the highest elected office in the United Kingdom of an avowed Israel hater whose approach to eradicating antisemitism was anodyne and recalcitrant at best, would have been a devastating signal not only to British Jewry, but to Jews everywhere."
“We fully agree with the Chief Rabbi’s assessment that he is wholly unfit for office. It appears that a majority of the British electorate are of a similar opinion."
“This morning - as Jews across Europe wake up to the news coming out of the United Kingdom - we will be collectively breathing a sigh of relief.”
With 648 out of 650 races called for Britain's Parliament, the Conservatives have won 363 seats, compared to just 203 for Labour, giving the Conservatives a wide majority.
Labour chairman Jeremy Corbyn announced that following his party's defeat, he would be stepping down as party leader before the next general election.
The article was published on Arutz 7

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

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.
On Freedom of Speech
 
Freedom of opinion and speech is a great asset and therefore everything must be said.
 
And if I am allowed to say everything, I also have to accept everything and not moan when I myself become the target of taunts. Agree!
 
But why then get upset about anti-Israel resolutions in the UN, the anti-Semitic floats in Aalst or the umpteenth anti-Semitic cartoon in the Volkskrant?
 
Everything can be said, right? A cartoon that insults the heart of Islam must be possible, right? And what's wrong with black Pete? Do dark skinned people feel offended? Don't complain, freedom of speech!
 
But that opinion should of course not be every opinion, because if parents want to teach their children that the family with a mom and dad is the cornerstone of society, it could be seen as discriminating towards people who have a different orientation…
 
A befriended non-Jewish, non-Christian, non-Muslim and unmarried journalist (thus of impeccable behaviour!) Has warned me not to write that I am in favour of freedom of expression, but that that freedom must have restrictions.
 
That nuancing "but" would bring a torrent of criticism on myself. "But" I don't get that, because if freedom of speech is to be cherished, then I am allowed to express my opinion, even if that opinion differs?
 
And so with this my opinion, straight from ancient Judaism (Proverbs of the Fathers 2: 1): “What is the right way that man must choose? Any way that gives honour to him who follows him and by which he is honoured by men. ”
 
In other words: Black Pete really had nothing to do with discrimination for me. But if normal thinking people with a black skin colour now experience this as discriminating, then we have to stop.
 
Fanaticism is no good, neither from the right nor from the left, not from religion, but also not from secularization. Because secularization can also be fanatic, compulsive and intolerant.
 
But just before writing this, I got a call from a secular mayor friend: "Binyomin, if you ever need to, you can count on me." This again shows: friendship and solidarity, between secular and religious, standing up for each other, that is not only possible but eminently desirable.

Yom Ha’atzmaut message from Chief Rabbi Jacobs

As a rabbi, I prefer not to get involved in politics and my opinion is that a politician should not interfere with religion. But where does politics start and where do rabbinical matters end? Is euthanasia a religious matter or a political problem? And who decides how far freedom of education extends?
That difference is even more unclear in Israel, because: "Israel without Torah is like a body without soul", one can’t separate the State of Israel from Judaism. And therefore, we see in the Knesset politicians with rabbinical opinions and rabbis as politicians.
But even the Jew who is not an Israeli resident has the conviction that he may state his opinion and interfere with Israeli political decisions because, he argues, without centuries of daily prayers in which we asked G'd to allow us to return to Jerusalem, Israel would not be today an Independent State. However, my opinion is that just as the Israeli citizen does not make statements about the Dutch Prime Minister, Rutte, we, not living in Israel, shouldn’t interfere in internal Israeli politics.
However, non-Jewish society sees us as an extension of Israel. Over and over again, I have to explain that I am Dutch and that the compliment that my Dutch is so fluent, is misplaced. You're not going to give that compliment to the bishop or the preacher, do you? But in according with their opinion "the Jew is Israel and Israel is the Jew".
And yet there is a heart of truth in their falsehood, for Jews know themselves interconnected by Jerusalem, our capital, where one day the Third Temple will rise when the ultimate peace will be there "for all inhabitants of Your earth."
And until then? When Netanyahu called upon French Jews to emigrate to Israel because of anti-Semitic violence, I was pushed in front of a journalist's microphone and was asked, "Rabbi, what do you think of Netanyahu's call? Do you really believe that there is no place for Jews in the Netherlands anymore?" Wow, I thought, that's a tricky one. It is not possible to request time for reflection, to say that Jews no longer belong in Europe is unwise and disagree in public with Netanyahu does not seem right. And therefore, my diplomatic, rabbinical and politically coloured answer was: Great we have got Israel for all those who must escape anti-Semitism. My parents had nowhere to go. But if and when I go on aliyah, will not be determined by fear for terrorism. I decide for myself, because I am independent, like the State of Israel!

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