European Jewish Association

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.

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…