It’s sad that Holocaust denial needs to be criminalized.

October 19, 2021

Chief Rabbi Jacobs:
Last Thursday was a special day. I was in Leeuwarden, a city in the north of The Netherlands, for the unveiling of a monument with 544 names of Jews who were murdered, 80% of what used to be a flourishing Jewish Community. It was not only an impressive ceremony, but a full day filling program. First a reception in the former Jewish School, then a tour of the former Jewish quarter where in front of the various houses and shops large photos of the former Jewish residents were placed: all murdered! And then: the unveiling wasn’t supposed to start till 4pm and it was only 2pm? After the tour of the Jewish neighbourhood, we were directed to a nearby hall. Just before the occupation, in 1939, the wedding reception of Barend Boers and Mimi Dwinger, had taken place in this hall. More than a hundred guests were present. And in that same hall, we set now, awaiting the unveiling of the monument. And then, quite unexpectedly, it started. We were in the middle of a play. The chuppah took place around us, we were the guests, and the lives of the bride and groom were acted. But it was not all festive. The Nazis occupied The Netherlands. Jews were arrested. The young couple decided to escape. Their flight from the Netherlands, their trek across the Pyrenees, we saw it all happen. The various people whose houses we had just passed by, performed and talked about their lives and their deaths in Sobibor, Auschwitz or elsewhere. I actually would have preferred not to experience this performance because it hit me hard. It was a tough confrontation.
And then, after the confrontational play, we left the hall in silence and walked to the unveiling of the monument. And there, at that ceremony, 6 students pretended to be former residents of the Jewish Community of Leeuwarden: my name is x and in 1943 I was murdered in Sobibor. The mayor of Leeuwarden talked about his Jewish grandmother and the secret surrounding her Jewishness. When the mayor’s aunt passed away, of natural causes, not so long ago, a briefcase was found and her Jewishness, her carefully hidden identity, was revealed. Because my ancestors originated from Leeuwarden, I had this personal feeling: how nice that my ancestors finally, after more then 75 years, got a gravestone, a matsewa! But a gravestone without a grave. A memorial prayer was recited followed by an intensive silence.
How could a large Jewish Congregation be massacred, gassed, exterminated? It was not just the fault of the small percentage of collaborators. The problem lay with the large silent mob that showed herd behaviour and chose the path that yielded them the most at the time: Fl.7.50 money per head for every betrayed Jew. And in better times even Fl. 40 pp!
Because of that herd mentality, which drove society in the completely wrong direction during the occupation, there was something like a collective guilt among the average Dutchman after the war. A few months ago, when 18 Orthodox Jewish girls were expelled from a KLM flight, I spoke to a former Minister and told him that thanks to my network I was able to arrange for them not to have to stay at Amsterdam Airport on Shabbat. And, I went on, whether it was right or wrong for the girls to be kicked off the plane, I don’t know, because they might have misbehaved themselves. But I was corrected fairly brutally by the former statesman with the words: As a Dutch society we must always stand up for the Jew, because during the Holocaust we, the Dutch, failed miserably. I fully agree with that failure, but to go so far that it is no longer allowed to check whether straight is crooked and crooked straight is a bit too far for me.
I agree that it is justified that also in the Netherlands it is being considered nowadays to criminalize denial of the Holocaust. But the fact that this needs consideration, is sad, because apparently it is no longer felt how radically, inhumane and criminally the Nazi regime acted, supported by the majority of the Dutch population. Result: 544 names of murdered Jews. The monument is impressive, but the history unacceptable.

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האיחוד האירופי הודיע: לא נתמוך בפרויקטים המעודדים טרור נגד ישראל

חברי ממשלה ממדינות אירופה ועשרות פרלמנטרים בכירים מרחבי היבשת סיימו אתמול, לצד מנהיגי הקהילות היהודיות, את הכנס למאבק באנטישמיות, שהתקיים בימי הזיכרון לליל הבדולח. הכנס החל באתר מחנה ההשמדה אושוויץ־בירקנאו ונמשך בקרקוב שבפולין, והוא אורגן על ידי איגוד הארגונים היהודיים באירופה.

בין המשתתפים והנואמים הבולטים הפעם נשיאת הפרלמנט האירופי רוברטה מצולה ממלטה, נשיאת הפרלמנט הצ’כי מרקטה פקרובה, ראש ממשלת מונטנגרו דרידאן אבאזוביץ’, נציגות בכירות מבתי המחוקקים הצרפתיים ואחרים. ישראל יוצגה על ידי ראש המשלחת לאיחוד האירופי, השגריר חיים רגב.

יו”ר איגוד הארגונים היהודיים באירופה, הרב מנחם מרגולין, סיפר בתחילת הטקס בבירקנאו על החוויה האנטישמית שעברה בימים אלה על ילדיו בבריסל מצדה של אישה שהעליבה אותם במהלך נסיעה בתחבורה הציבורית.

German antisemitism Czar comments about public kippah wearing are a “surrender to hate” say EU Jewish Heads

“Is this the solution? Will the next advice be for me to cut off my beard? Or change my name?” asks Chief Rabbi Jacobs.
EU Jewish Association (EJA) Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin and Head of Governmental relations for the Rabbinical Centre of Europe Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs (Netherlands) today expressed their disappointment and alarm at comments made by Germany’s respected antisemitism co-ordinatior, Dr Felix Klein, where he said that he wouldn’t advise Jews to wear Kippot (skullcaps) in some parts of the country.

The heads, representing hundreds of communities across Europe, said the comments, however well-intended towards the safety of Jews in Germany amounted to a policy of a surrender towards hate.
In a statement EJA head Rabbi Margolin said,
“It is with disappointment and alarm that I read the comments of Dr. Felix Klein. It is clear that through his work he has put the safety and welfare of the Jewish Community in Germany first, but his latest comments are a surrender to hate.
Jews cannot surrender to those who despise us. We do not alter who we are to placate the basest instincts of humanity. Dr Klein’s solution appears to be hide everything that is Jewish and then there is no antisemitism. This is a dangerous position to adopt and the EJA repudiates it in the strongest possible terms.”
Chief Rabbi Jacobs added:
“Dr Klein rightly points out the problem of antisemitism in Germany, but his well meant advice is not, to my humble opinion, the solution at all. What is next? Should I shave off my beard? Change my name? This is the road where his comments lead to. My own parents had to hide during the Nazi period. I simply refuse to hide today, nor should anyone, least of all the man tasked with fighting antisemitism in Germany, be asking us to do just that.”
Read more in dutch HERE

Meeting with Madam Jolanta Urbanovič, Vice-Minister of Education, Science and Sport of the Republic of Lithuania

Yesterday, on 16 January 2020, the European Jewish Association and our partners from the Action and Protection Foundation /Hungary/ and the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania have joined together to further advance the ongoing Europe-wide initiative on the European Curriculum and Textbook Project against Antisemitism. The meeting has thus taken place in the wonderful Lithuanian capital of Vilnius – once known as the Jerusalem of the North.

With the EJA having been represented by Mihails Vorobeičiks-Mellers (Political Affairs Adviser), the APF by Kálmán Szalai (Secretary) and the International Commission by Ingrida Vilkienė (Deputy Director), we have had the pleasure of meeting with Jolanta Urbanovič, Vice-Minister of Education, Science and Sport of the Republic of Lithuania, and members of her team.

During the meeting, the European dimension of the project has been described and discussed, along with the ongoing dialogues with the educational authorities in several other countries, where meetings have already taken place earlier. Then the initiative’s realization in Hungary has been touched upon – its roots, planning, development, the negotiations involved, gradual implementation and results, and the effect it has had and continues to have on the national curriculum and those undergoing as well as teaching it. 

Afterwards, the Lithuanian system of education has been discussed, particularly the various aspects of Jewish studies already covered within the curriculum as well as the corresponding topics where the International Commission has achieved significant progress. In case of the latter, numerous teacher seminars, symposiums and events devoted to providing extensive information on the pre-war Jewish life in Lithuania, contributions to society and country as a whole, as well as Holocaust remembrance – just to name a few.

A consensus has been reached that a much stronger emphasis has to be made not only on the Holocaust remembrance – which is undoubtedly important – but also coexistence, cooperation and long-time friendship between the Jews and their compatriots inhabiting Lithuania in the many centuries preceding the Second World War, not to mention the after-war and contemporary periods as well. 

With the above in mind, and considering the Ministry’s plans to renew the curriculum (not just in history, but also other subjects, e.g., social studies, languages etc.), it has been, in particular, agreed that a project proposal containing a number of suggestions shall be prepared, covering the various aspects of the topics mentioned above and others, which shall then be discussed and further evaluated by a prospectively set up expert group, whose composition shall be also discussed soon. Interest and willingness for further close dialogue and possible cooperation has been expressed by all sides involved in the meeting.

We are most grateful to Madam Vice-Minister Urbanovič and her colleagues at the Ministry for their much welcome interest, time and the possibility to have this discussion yesterday, not to mention for being such wonderful and gracious hosts. We very much look forward to further communication with the Ministry and our partners on the present initiative and, of course, other topics of common interest and concern.

Simcha Shel Mitzvah, Words by Rabbi Margolin

This week I spent a lot of time going to events marking the Shoah in Brussels. They were, rightly and fittingly, solemn occasions. But here’s the thing: at every event, I found my fellow Jews talking together, smiling, sharing stories and there was even the odd joke or two.
Even at this darkest of commemorations, there was life and a celebration of the deep bond between us that transcends the shared pain and history. And it stood in stark contrast to the others present who were sombre faced and bore the weight of history in a very different way.
It seemed to me that the reminder to stay positive and rejoice in your Judaism that I tried to leave you with last week needn’t have been said, as it was clearly and demonstrably in evidence.
Because when you think of it, and you delve a bit deeper into our faith, the reason becomes clear: Joy (Simcha), is our central artery, feeding our heart and mind and driving us forward.
Moses after leading us through trying times, through hardship, rebellion and our complaining, understood us well when he said that it is our capacity for joy that gives the Jewish People the strength to endure.
Explaining to a non-Jew our holidays often ends with the cliché “they tried to kill us, let’s eat”, but this throwaway comment masks a more fundamental truth.
Let’s pick a holiday out at random…Sukkot for instance.
On Sukkot we leave the security and comfort of our houses and live in a shack exposed to the wind, the cold and the rain. Yet we call it zeman simchatenu, “our season of joy”.
Try another: Purim.
On the face of it a deeply depressing story, and yet we overcame, and boy, do we celebrate!
Time and time again, throughout our texts, we are enjoined to celebrate life, to rejoice.
Now either we are a bunch of deeply weird people who seem to thrive on adversity, orsomething deeper is going on here. You don’t need to guess what side I’m going to lean on. But let’s dwell on the ‘weird’ idea for a minute.
The founder of the Chassidic movement was once asked: “Why is it that Chassidim burst into song and dance at the slightest provocation? Is this the behaviour of a healthy, sane individual?”
The Baal Shem Tov responded with a story about a deaf man coming across a group of townspeople dancing to a musician that he hadn’t seen, and he thought they had gone mad.
The point is, without the context, such expressions of joy can appear disconcerting or perplexing.
Our context runs deep. We are commanded to Love the Lord our G-d with all our heart and all our soul and all our might. Moses as we touched upon earlier put Joy at the heart of Judaism (even as he was reading out the curses), and our Mitzvot? Well, the concept of simcha shel mitzvah, the “joy of a mitzvah,” has always been part and parcel of Jewish teachings.
Rabbi Lord Sachs, as eloquent as always, once told a story that toward the end of his life, having been deaf for twenty years, Beethoven composed one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, his Ninth Symphony. It became the West’s first choral symphony. The words he set to music were Schiller’s Ode to Joy.
Now, Ode to Joy, as any Europhiles reading this will know, is the anthem for the European Union. And Rabbi Sachs story came to mind as I was looking at the European flag at one of the events.
Because looking around the room, looking at my fellow Jews smiling, living, rejoicing in their Judaism at this tragic commemoration, and contrasting it with the others present, underlined to me not only the context I was just talking about, but how each of us, each Jew, has, as Rabbi Sachs alluded to, their own ‘ode to Joy’ within them, an ode that to those who are deaf to it might indeed appear odd, but to us comes not as second nature, but instead as the primary essence of our being.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch wrote that “The Baal Shem Tov wiped away tears from the Jewish people. He worked hard to ensure that every Jew would be happy simply because he is a Jew.”
There’s still a lot more work to be done on this by all of us, but looking around the room at those various events, it was clear to me that the joy of being a Jew remains the ‘perfect defeat’ of the Holocaust, and a reminder, if one were needed, of what a beautiful thing it is to be Jewish.
We must always continue to go out with Joy.

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