Words by our board member, Binyomin Jacobs, Chief Rabbi of the Netherlands

April 24, 2020

Dear people,
The fact that we are all experiencing a difficult period needs no elucidation. We are all in the same distressing boat.
But the way in which we deal with this quarantine, with the loneliness, with just sitting and filling our time, is something in which we differ.
I mostly fill my time with my phone and behind my computer. Just to call to ask the common question: how are you?
Is such an expression of interest worthwhile?
I think so. I also have been called several times and have received various WhatsApp messages with the question: how are you? Believe me when I say that it really did me good that someone takes the time to also ask how I am doing. I am a human being, too, and nothing that is human is strange to me. The interest did me good. And thus I am convinced that when I call somebody, he or she will also get a nice feeling from my phone call.
But I want to share with you a phone call that I made with an old lady. I don’t know how she experienced my call, but I certainly know how I experienced it.
It concerned an elderly lady, who lives in a town on the Veluwe. This lady has not had an easy life, to express it euphemistically. A multiplicity of complex problems, kilometres away from all that is Jewish. A difficult childhood and a marriage that tragically fell apart. Very poor and consequently living in a small apartment. And now at home all day, with no one to talk to, because she has no family left at all. And then I call her up with the question how are you?
So I don’t know what the phone call meant to her, but to me it was very impressive and educational. How are you? was my somewhat automatic question. Her reply, however, was far from ordinary:
I am doing great. Just came back from the supermarket. It was wonderfully quiet and the few customers that were there radiated friendliness. And on the street it was so impressively quiet. I heard the birds sing. No roar of planes flying overhead, magnificent crocuses in full bloom, a serene feel of quietness and peace… how beautiful, actually.
I immediately had to think about this teacher that gave his students a test. All the students received a piece of paper in front of them with the blank side facing up. They were only allowed to flip over the sheet when the teacher gave them permission. When all the students were properly seated, the teacher told them that they all had to flip over the sheet and write down what they saw on the other side. But they didn’t see anything on that other side. The piece of paper was completely blank with only in the middle a small black dot. So all the students wrote down that they saw a black dot.
After handing in the pieces of paper they were told that they had answered the question incorrectly, because, as the teacher pointed out, the right answer would have been that they saw a blank sheet of paper. That tiny dot in the middle was completely negligible relative to the piece of paper.
The same applies to when we see what the other does wrong; too often, we simply don’t pay attention to the good that he does.
And what about the neighbour’s beautiful car? That is what we see, but we don’t know what takes place at his home.
But also when I look at myself. Am I suffering from my shortcomings and am I perhaps not paying attention to what I am able to do?
That is also the way it is in quarantine at the moment. Am I fixating exclusively on…
I think of that elderly lady, all alone, nobody around her, a less than enviable childhood. And when I ask her how she is doing under the current difficult circumstances, her reply is inspiring. The black dot on the blank sheet of paper did not attract her attention!
Please stay strong and healthy. May G’d bless you for years to come with prosperity and health.
And don’t forget to call someone and ask them How are you?
Binyomin Jacobs, Chief Rabbi of the Netherlands

Additional Articles

EJP

En vacances en Croatie, des écoliers juifs français découvrent une croix gammée géante à l’extérieur de leur hôtel.

Le président de l’Association juive européenne, le rabbin Menachem Margolin, a déclaré : “Ce seront des vacances et une expérience inoubliables pour ces enfants, pour toutes les mauvaises raisons… un rappel que nous ne pouvons jamais devenir complaisants ou baisser notre garde quand il s’agit d’antisémitisme”.

Un groupe d’écoliers juifs français en vacances dans un hôtel de la ville de Trilj, près de Split, en Croatie, s’est réveillé lundi en découvrant une croix gammée géante barbouillée sur le trottoir en face de leur hôtel.

L’Association juive européenne (EJA), basée à Bruxelles, a été informée de cet acte clairement antisémite par son représentant en Croatie, Romano Bolkovic, qui a contacté les bureaux du Premier ministre, du Président et des ministres des Affaires étrangères et de l’Intérieur croates, et a informé l’ambassadeur d’Israël.

La police mène actuellement une enquête sur cet incident.

“C’est une honte absolue. Si je suis certain que les opinions de l’individu et du groupe responsables de la peinture d’une croix gammée géante ne sont pas représentatives de la grande majorité des Croates, l’acte et la nature de cette attaque – car c’est bien de cela qu’il s’agit – restent une profonde entaille pour les Juifs du monde entier”, a commenté le président de l’EJA, le rabbin Menachem Margolin.

“En tant qu’adultes, nous sommes tristement habitués à la haine, et pourtant nous continuons à faire tout ce que nous pouvons pour en protéger nos enfants. Qu’un groupe d’enfants juifs français en vacances en Croatie ait eu une introduction aussi vicieuse et visible à cette haine est tragique.”’

”Les vacances de ces enfants seront désormais inoubliables, pour toutes les mauvaises raisons”, a-t-il ajouté.

Le Rabbin Margolin a conclu, ”Bien que je sois confiant que la police fera toute la lumière sur cet incident, et bien que les mots forts de condamnation venant des plus hautes fonctions en Croatie soient un réconfort, nous avons encore beaucoup de travail à faire contre l’antisémitisme. Cette attaque nous rappelle que nous ne pouvons jamais nous permettre d’être complaisants et de baisser la garde”.

EJP

EUROPEAN JEWISH ASSOCIATION IN EUROPE-WIDE CAMPAIGN TO HOUSE JEWISH REFUGEES FROM UKRAINE

Initiatives connects fleeing Ukrainian Jews with Jewish homes across the continent for temporary shelter. Association is also providing pick up of clothing.
As the war in Ukraine enters a second week, Europe is witnessing a huge influx of refugees fleeing Ukraine towards the West. Naturally many Ukrainian Jews are included in this surge to safety.
The Brussels-based European Jewish Association (EJA), representing hundreds of communities across the continent, has launched a Europe-wide campaign to temporarily provide homes, food and clothing to hundreds of Jewish families whose lives have been torn-apart and up-ended by the conflict in Ukraine.
The appeal has gone out to Jewish Communities from Lisbon to Lublin, Bucharest to Bordeaux and everywhere in between.
Speaking after launching the campaign, EJA Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin said,
“The history of the Jewish people is one of displacement, either because of pogrom or war. We are only too aware of what it means to be forced to up-and-leave at a moment’s notice. In almost every one of our communities you will hear such stories. From generations ago from Spain or Galicia, from the war, to emigrating to Israel. I say this because we are especially attuned to these catastrophes. And because we are so attuned, we are pre-programmed to help our Jewish neighbours, just as we always have.
“I have faith that this campaign will deliver. Since the war started Jews from all over Europe have been getting in touch with us to see what can be done to help their Ukrainian Jewish brothers and sisters in need. We are providing them with the vehicle to do just that, by offering shelter, food and clothing to those who left in a hurry, often with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”

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.

Remembrance at Auschwitz

EUROPEAN lawmakers and Jewish communal figures commemorated the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht during a ceremony at Auschwitz on Tuesday, calling for enduring memory and education to counter the forces of hatred.
Capping off a conference on antisemitism organised by the European Jewish Association, the delegation – including representatives of more than two dozen countries – held a short candlelighting ceremony, before laying wreaths at the “death wall” where thousands of inmates were killed by firing squad.
“On this day exactly 83 years ago, hundreds of Jews were murdered, fathers, mothers, children, by my countrymen, in my country,” said Stefanie Hubig, the education minister for the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. “Synagogues and prayer houses were set on fire, Jewish cemeteries were devastated. Countless people were arrested and deported to Nazi concentration camps.”
Hubig added, “There is still antisemitism in Germany, and I am ashamed of it, deeply”
Igor Zorcic, president of the Slovenian National Assembly, referenced more recent atrocities in his remarks.
“Unfortunately, present times do not always prove that our promises of ‘never again’ are entirely sincere,” he said. “Remember Srebrenica – and don’t underestimate the seriousness of the current political friction over genocide.”
He was referring to the 1992 massacre at Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where 7000 Bosnian Muslim boys and men were slaughtered by Serbian forces.
Addressing the delegation in Krakow a night earlier, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, chairman of Yad Vashem and a Holocaust survivor, said Kristallnacht underlined how much the world is willing to ignore human suffering.
“[Kristallnacht] was a test to humanity, to all the nations, to all the globe, how would they react,” said the former chief rabbi of Israel. “In my eyes it was a test,” he said, noting how little international outcry followed.
“Ask in your cities, in the archives, for the newspapers of November 10, 11 and 12, 1938: What is written in the newspapers about Kristallnacht? Almost nothing.”
https://www.australianjewishnews.com/remembrance-at-auschwitz/

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