Reflections on life and the polish animal welfare law from our advisory board member Rabbi Binyomen Jacobs

October 13, 2020

A healthy winter!
During the war, Germans who had volunteered to join the SS and the SD and Dutch collaborators of the Nazis were buried in the municipalities where they had been killed or shot.
After the war, the municipalities where those Jew hunters and other beasts were buried no longer wanted to tolerate having these remains in their local cemeteries.
The Ministry of Defence then made a piece of land available in Ysselsteyn where they had to be reburied. That killing field in Ysselseteyn is therefore a collection bin for SS beasts, Dutch SD men, collaborators, a number of whom had been shot by the resistance, and also “ordinary” German soldiers. The person who had Anne Frank and her family deported is also buried there.
A commemoration at a cemetery where only dead “ordinary” soldiers are buried, even if they were exclusively German soldiers, is a completely different story in my view.
Commemoration there is certainly worth considering. But here in Ysselsteyn paying tribute to traitors and murderers who have voluntarily chosen to murder my family and / or have them sent to the gas chambers? No way!
And so I still signed the petition, although by nature I am not a signer. I added my name to the petition to prevent anyone from thinking that I have forgiven them for their atrocities, because it happened so long ago, because it has now become history, because the crimes are barred…. So no.
Crimes of this kind against humanity cannot and must not expire and degenerate into an old episode in history. Am I hateful then? When the question arose years ago in the Sinai Center (Jewish psychiatric centre) whether we, as a Jewish institution, would like to treat children of parents who had dome wrong, I made it clear: certainly!
We must not punish children for their parents’ mistakes and I am grateful that I was able to help those victims of the war, because they too are victims of those horrible dark years.
Their parents’ opposition to my parents makes them no less victim, no less second generation. Of course we are talking about children who suffer because their parents were “wrong” in their view. I remember a meeting in Israel of my wife with a daughter of a German SS officer. Crying that daughter and my wife embraced each other: a heartbreaking and impressive scene!
And while I was able to confirm the above information about Ysselseteyn from my car, I was on my way to The Hague together with the secretary of the NIK. An appointment with the Ambassador of Poland, Mr Marcin Czepelak. (Don’t ask me how to pronounce this name. I notice that those ambassadors from those former Eastern bloc countries all have  unpronounceable names.) It was a good and friendly conversation. It was about the impending new law that wants to ban the export of kosher meat slaughtered in Poland.
Polish Jews will be allowed to continue to slaughter kosher for domestic use, but export? That should be a bridge too far. The ambassador understood well that this is not just a practical and business problem.
He foresaw very clearly that if Poland bans exports, several EU countries will follow and in the end there will no longer be kosher meat available within the EU, not even in the Netherlands. The Ambassador was in no doubt about that. But he also felt keenly that the ban on the export of kosher meat would hurt the Jewish community in its full breadth, would deeply affect their Jewishness. Jews who never eat kosher and perhaps consider kosher food as nonsense and out of date, the ambassador himself indicated, are equally affected by this measure. Because it may be that they don’t consume kosher meat, the ban on the export of kosher meat is an assault on their Jewish identity.
And now here I am at the end of this day, writing this diary to the digital paper and hopefully still with enough puff in me to dismantle the Sukkah (booth) tonight and put it away until next year. And until then? Hopefully, peace and a very soon deliverance from the evil that is called corona and also a proper return to Jewish life in our polder country.
Even on Yom Kippur, there were Jewish congregations that did not have shul service. And this year, far fewer booths that stood near the synagogues have to be demolished. The reason? Unfortunately they were not built because of corona! At the end of all these Jewish Holidays, we wish each other, and so do I: a healthy winter!
During corona time, Chief Rabbi Jacobs keeps a diary for the Jewish Cultural Quarter. NIW publishes these special documents daily on www.niw.nl.

Additional Articles

Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs spoke at a solemn and important event, marking the ascendancy of the late Cardinal and Archbishop of Utrecht Johannes de Jong

On 19th September in Utrecht, Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, Senior EJA Board Member and Chairman of the EJA Committee for combating antisemitism, spoke at a solemn and important event, marking the ascendancy of the late Cardinal and Archbishop of Utrecht Johannes de Jong as a Righteous amongst the Nations by Yad Vashem for resisting the Nazis and saving hundreds of Jewish families and children.

Present at the event were all Dutch Bishops, the Israeli Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, two representatives of the King.

In his speech to those assembled, Chief Rabbi Jacobs recalled one particularly brave and visible moment of Cardinal de Jong’s resistance, linking it to a recent Torah Portion urging the Israelites, before entering the Land of Israel to “walk in his (G-d’s) ways”

In his powerful remarks Chief Rabbi Jacobs said:

“Last Shabbat we read in all synagogues in the world the Parshah כי תבוא in which we read, among other things, in chapter 28 sentence 9: והלכת בדרכיו -and you shall walk in His Ways.

The great philosopher, lawyer and physician Maimonides counts these words as one of the 613 do’s and don’ts known to Judaism and he explains that man should try as much as possible to resemble Gd. As the Midrash, the narrative literature, explains: “As the Lord is called gracious, so also shalt thou be merciful. As the Eternal is called merciful, so also shalt thou be merciful. And as the Eternal is called loving, so also shalt thou be loving.”

It is known that Maimonides never counts general commandments, such as “Thou shalt keep My commandments” or “Thou shalt sanctify thyself” in the number of the 613 commandments and prohibitions that the Torah prescribes. Only specific commandments count. And so the question arises, why is “and ye shall walk in His ways” an exception made here and an apparently general and overarching commission elevated to a specific individual commandment?

It is quite conceivable that a man lives exactly and meticulously as He, the Eternal, desires of him. He never commits a violation. And yet he does not, as it were, rise higher on the spiritual ladder. He remains on the spiritual plane where he stood. Teach us the Torah here: והלכת בדרכיו – there must be movement. How does a person get his spiritual level moving? By not merely fulfilling His commandments, but by being constantly aware that His ways must be walked. Every commandment has its specific assignment, its own way of carrying out, but growing, rising higher and higher, being in motion is an assignment in itself.

I can imagine that in the 1940s-1945s situation, many dutifully obeyed G-d’s laws, kept all commandments, and committed no transgression. But was there any movement? Were they willing to move the moment movement was required? “Thou shalt walk in His ways.” It is not enough to keep His commandments. His ways must be walked, there must be progress, spiritual ascent, movement.

During the horrible war period, according to the historian Prof. Presser, five percent of the Dutch were on the move, but it was a movement in the wrong direction because that five percent of our Dutch population was collaborating with the enemy, the Nazis. Ninety percent sat motionless and so let it happen. And only five percent moved in the right direction, walking in G-d’s Ways, at the risk of their own lives. The bishops, led by Archbishop de Jong, were part of that five percent, because on Sunday, August 3, 1941, it was pronounced from all the pulpits that membership of National Socialist umbrella organizations was not only prohibited, but would also entail exclusion from the sacraments.

The following happened prior to that Sunday:

In the night from Saturday to Sunday, August 3, 1940, the telephone rang in the Archbishop’s Palace. The Gestapo wanted to speak to the Archbishop immediately. Archbishop de Jong has Dr. Geerdinck announce that the men can come in half an hour. De Jong dresses in his official attire and the chandeliers are burning in the large room for guests.

When the bell rings at exactly four o’clock, Dr. Geerdinck opens, asks Himmler’s men to remove their coats and climbs the state staircase in front of them. Arriving at the door, he asks their names, knocks and leads the men inside. The Archbishop stands behind the table in his official garb and is silent. dr. Geerdinck announces: “Excellence. Obersturmführer Matzker and his adjutant”. De Jong bends down and remains silent. Geerdinck says: “setzen Sie sich”. Everyone sits down and everyone is silent.

Finally, the Obersturmführer takes out a narrow roll of paper and begins to read that the proclamation to ban membership of National Socialist umbrella organizations must not take place tomorrow morning. The Archbishop indicates that he has understood the message, whereupon his visitor says: “It is now four o’clock. All presbyteries can be reached by telephone. The proclamation in the church can be cancelled without difficulty.” The Archbishop mumbles that it is clear to him.

Then there is silence again, for a long time. Finally, Geerdinck says, “Gentlemen, have you fulfilled your assignment with this?”. They mumble yes, whereupon Geerdinck stands up and the visitors follow his example. A farewell is said, silently and without greeting.

The next Sunday morning, of course, the announcement went through everywhere. The words non possumus non loqui sound – “We cannot be silent”.

De Jong refused to simply continue to serve the Eternal as a faithful Catholic and to remain silent. He knew that especially as a church leader, movement, action was expected of him.

I regret that he could not be awarded the Yad Vashem award during his lifetime, but I am grateful that, thanks in part to the efforts of my good friend Dr. Hans Themans, we are finally gathered here today to show the world who and what de Jong used to be.

His Eminence Dr. Johannes Cardinal de Jong no longer needs the award, because he is rewarded daily for his willingness to risk his own life and to keep moving in the dark 1940s-45s, when 90% of our Dutch society motionless saw it and let it happen.

But this special meeting is of great importance to us, because alertness was, is and remains required. What happened then can happen again today and tomorrow. The war ended in our country on May 5, 1945, but anti-Semitism, today under the pseudonym anti-Zionism, has remained.”

Israel skips Poland antisemitism meet, but some still see thaw in ties ahead

KRAKOW, Poland — A Polish opposition politician expressed regret at the passage of a law this summer that limited Holocaust restitution efforts, and said he hopes ties between Poland and Israel — put in deep freeze by the legislation — will be repaired soon.
“I personally, from the very beginning, was opposed to both legislations that made so much damage to Polish-Israeli relations,” Michał Kaminski, a Polish senator and a deputy marshal of the Senate with the opposition Union of European Democrats, told The Times of Israel during an interview earlier this week. “Those legislations I opposed in both chambers, they are very unfortunate.”
Kaminski was referring to not just the legislation from July regarding Holocaust restitution, but also a 2018 law that criminalized statements implying the Polish nation played a role in victimizing Jews in the Holocaust. The law was later amended to remove the possibility of criminal charges, but the legislation caused major diplomatic tension between Warsaw and both Israel and the United States.
Three years later, a law that effectively prevents future restitution to the heirs of property seized by the Nazis during the Holocaust led to a downturn in ties between Israel and Poland that has remained in effect since the summer. Each nation recalled its ambassadors, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the law “antisemitic and immoral.”
Poland “turned into an anti-democratic, illiberal country that doesn’t respect the greatest tragedy in human history,” Lapid charged. Poland responded by accusing Israel of “baseless and irresponsible” behavior.

Kaminski — a former minister and former member of the European Parliament — suggested that ties between Israel and Poland would not be irreparably harmed, and claimed that support for Israel was a bipartisan issue in Warsaw.
“In terms of supporting Israel on the international stage, Polish opposition is absolutely on the same side as the Polish government,” he said. “We are supporting Israel as a state, we are supporting Israel’s fight against terrorism, and we are supporting Israel as a stable democracy in the Middle East.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left) speaks at a ceremony in Rabat, on August 11, 2021. Poland’s President Andrzej Duda (right) arrives for a NATO summit in Brussels on June 14, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO; Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via AP)

Kaminski noted that Poland was still among the strongest supporters of Israel within the European Union, and suggested that the rift was motivated by domestic political needs on both sides, which he called “very unfortunate.”

Three months after the freeze in ties between Jerusalem and Warsaw, there were few signs of thaw at the confab in Poland, yet cautious optimism that it was on the horizon.
A spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry told The Times of Israel that any improvement in ties “is basically up to Poland,” adding: “The crisis is because of the law. In order to fix the problem, they should address it.”
While politicians, ministers and parliamentarians from a wide range of countries attended the conference, including the UK, Germany, France, Hungary, Slovenia, the Netherlands and even the Congo, not a single representative of Israel’s government or parliament was present. The only Israeli on the conference agenda was Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the former chief rabbi and current chairman of Yad Vashem.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sent a video message that was played at the conference’s gala dinner, where he stressed that “Jews should not be fighting antisemitism alone,” and declared that anti-Zionism is the “modern manifestation” of antisemitism.
A representative for Poland’s government — Wojciech Kolarski, secretary of state in the chancellery of the president — was originally slated to attend the conference but canceled for unspecified reasons. His office did not respond to a request for comment.
Instead, an adviser to President Andrzej Duda read a letter from the president at the conference, which emphasized the need to remember “all Poles” alongside Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and stressed that “contemporary Poland is a safe and friendly country” to Jews.
EJA officials said they invited Israeli Culture Minister Chili Tropper to attend, but he declined. Tropper’s office said he was unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts.
Conference organizers suggested that Israeli government representatives were unwilling to commit to attending the conference due to the uncertainty over the timing of critical budget votes, which wrapped up late last week.
Alex Benjamin, the director of the EJA, told The Times of Israel that the crisis in ties between Israel and Poland likely “would have been [part of the] equation” for Israeli officials choosing not to attend.
But, he said, “there are some things that transcend political disagreements,” and asserted that for Israel, “such consideration and such diplomatic rows fade into insignificance when it comes to honoring the dead in Auschwitz. There are some things that transcend political disagreements,” he added. “And visits to Auschwitz and talking about antisemitism is one of those.”
Kaminski spoke to The Times of Israel immediately after he addressed a gala dinner at the EJA gathering in Krakow on Monday. Feted as a close friend of Israel and of Europe’s Jewish community, Kaminski’s public remarks echoed Bennett’s equation of antisemitism and anti-Zionism: “Fighting antisemitism and standing with Israel and with its people — we are fighting the same fight.”
The Polish senator told The Times of Israel that while he understands Jewish and Israeli outrage over the restitution legislation, he does not believe it was aimed specifically at cases of Holocaust survivors and victims.
“The legislation about the property rights is directed in 85-90% of the cases, not against Jews, it’s directed against the Polish citizens,” he said. “I understand the anger of Jewish people, of Israeli politicians, on one side, I voted against the law. But to be honest, this law is not directed against the Jews as such.”

Artur Hofman, the head of the Polish Jewish cultural organization TSKZ, lays a wreath at Auschwitz on November 9, 2021. (Yossi Zeliger/EJA)

Warsaw says the law will bolster legal certainty in the property market, but opponents say that it is unjust to those with legitimate claims, including Holocaust survivors and their families.
The legislation places a 10-to-30-year cutoff date on contesting past administrative decisions on restituting property lost during World War II. Critics of the law argue that it will effectively cut off the ability of Jews to reclaim property that was seized before and during the Holocaust.
Poland is the only country in the European Union that has not passed comprehensive national legislation to return, or provide compensation for, private property confiscated by the Nazis or nationalized by the communist regime.
Artur Hofman, president of the cultural group TSKZ, the largest Polish Jewish organization, told The Times of Israel that while the law is problematic, the outrage ignores more local issues.
“I know that everybody in the world, in Israel, in the USA, is asking about money from property in Poland,” Hofman said. “But Polish Jews are like toys in this game. Nobody asks us.”
Hofman said that cultural buildings that once belonged to the Jewish community in Warsaw were seized by the government and never returned.
He claimed that restitution funds sought by organizations in the US and Israel are rarely distributed to Holocaust survivors, and that the money should instead remain in the Polish Jewish community and go toward remembrance and education projects.
https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-skips-poland-antisemitism-meet-but-some-still-see-thaw-in-ties-ahead/

First candle of Chanukah- #LightingEurope

Chanukah is here. It’s the time of the year when we come together with our loved ones to celebrate the miracle of the Maccabees by lightning the menorah.
In many cultures, light symbolizes positivity and hope. We all know this year was not easy, to say the least, for many people around the world and specially here in Europe. This Chanukah we have the opportunity to join our lights together, to share the hope and faith for a better future for all of us.
As the famous Jewish song say: “each of us is a small light and together we are a mighty light”.
We invite you all, Jews and non-Jews to join us this Chanukah in choosing hope, and focussing on the the bright and good. Together we will spread our light throughout Europe!
To join us you simply need to take a picture (or a video) of yourself lighting the candles (or just your Menurah) during the 8 days of Hanukah (10-18 Dec) and post it on social media with the hashtag #LightingEurope.
Happy Chanukah!

Red Lines Follow-Up, Meeting with Hungarians High Representatives

We were honoured today to welcome a very-high level delegation of Hungarian diplomats to EJA HQ.

It is not every day that a State Secretary for Civil and State Affairs and 2 Ambassadors to Belgium and the EU deem Jewish Issues important enough to come as a triumvirate and spend over 2 hours with us in a warm, productive and very co-operative meeting.

We thank Mr. Vince Szalay-Bobrovniczky , State Secretary for Civil and Social Affairs at the Office of Prime Minister of Hungary , H.E. Mr. Tamás Iván Kovács, Hungary’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg,  H.E. Mr. Olivér Varhelyi, Hungary’s Ambassador to the European Union, Permanent Representative for their time.

We are delighted to announce that this high ranking diplomatic and governmental team has agreed to take back our Jewish Red lines to the Hungarian Government and Parliament with an intention to adopt them. We are also delighted to report the unwavering commitment of all to safeguarding, growing and enriching Jewish Life in Hungary.

 

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