Author Archives: davidgroen1

The Danger of the Diluted Memory

911.jpg

The view from my window on September 11, 2001

At about 1 AM this morning I was in my car and I began to realize how many memories I had filed away from 18 years ago.  There were literally tens of thousands of people whose experience that day was worse than mine, but like so many other New Yorkers who saw parts of it live and spent part of that day in Manhattan, the horrors of that day were very real to me.  Even so it took a mental jolt, one caused by a friend changing a picture on Facebook to bring me back to what I remember from that day, and to remind me of how important it sometimes is to remember the things we want to forget the most.

Everyone who was in New York on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, a day that was originally an election day, will remember that the weather was so perfect, that in retrospect it was eerie.  When I saw Dick OIiver of FOX 5 NY first reporting an incident, I recall him saying that it had appeared that a twin engine jet had hit one of the Twin Towers.  Since at the time I was living on the 10th floor of an apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, I was able to see the towers from my window.  Seeing the smoke coming the first tower from the window made this all very real very quickly, but what it did not immediately do was make it clear to me that it was an attack.  There were many, including myself who initially thought it was a terrible accident.  Regardless, there was nothing that my staying at home was going to do for anyone so I made my way to the train which going through Manhattan would eventually get me to Brooklyn where I worked at the time.

Some of the images that stuck with me most on that day were the images of people whose expressions of panic and devastation implied they had people in the towers.  At least back then, whenever a major news or sports story hit, there were enough people talking about it on the subway for someone to get wind of what was happening.  So by the time the train was just a few stops in I knew a second plane had hit.  Within a few stops I saw 2 young women crying uncontrollably, looking as though they had a person or people they loved in peril.   When the train arrived at the 34th street and 6th Avenue station it was evacuated, the first car being the car with open doors while all the remaining cars, of which one was the one I was in moving towards the front.  When I got out into the street there were 3 memories that will remain with me forever.  The first one was the fact that the streets were filled with people, and that almost all of these people had one thing in common.  They were walking uptown.  The general feeling seemed to be more of a focused numbness than anything else.  There were no smiles, not a lot of talking and throngs of people doing the only thing that made sense at that moment.  To get as far away from downtown as quickly as possible.

The second thing I remember was standing in front of a store front and seeing the TV on what I remember was WABC NY, with the image of what would later be known as Ground Zero and the words, “Twin Towers, attacked and destroyed”.  Once again it felt very real.

The third thing I remember is something I rarely speak of, likely due to the incredibly sad futility of it and the fact that I will either never know what it was or worse, the fact that what it was would only be described as one of the saddest things I will ever see in my life.  On a side street there was a white car, with the windows down and the news blasting from its speakers, and outside there was what I am guessing was a Japanese couple most likely in their late 40s or 50s, the man pacing back and forth and together with his female companion sobbing almost to the point of screams.  All I could imagine was that their child was in one of the towers, and somehow they knew that he or she had been killed in the attacks.

I remember the fear I felt by the rumor that there were more planes unaccounted for, and knowing that being around the corner from the Empire State Building made us all vulnerable.  I remember walking to and over the 59th Street Bridge, looking downtown and seeing the trail of smoke, while walking next to people covered in the grey dust that covered anyone who was close enough to feel the effects of the attack.  And I remember the smell.  Everyone who was in Manhattan either on that day or days following remembers the smell.  The smell of burning, the smell of devastation, the smell of death.

The worst thing about everything I have just recounted is what I said way back in the beginning of this piece, and that is that compared to many on that day, I saw and experienced nothing.

So 18 years later, as impactful of a day as that was, it was not till today at about 2 AM that I started to remember these things.  And it dawned on me once again how important it is to keep memories like this alive.  It dawned on me that I am very likely far from alone in allowing the memory of that day to become diluted.  And it brought me back again to the importance of reminding people of the things they sometimes want to forget the most.  If 18 years and 3,000 people later the memory of September 11th is weakened to me, someone who does care, it’s even more clear to me how important it is to keep talking about 75 years ago and 6 million.

May the souls of all of those lost on or as a result of September 11, 2001 always be blessed and may we honor them by never forgetting what happened on that awful day.

LIKE THIS POST? SHARE IT ON FACEBOOK OR TWITTER

HOW TO BUY THE BOOK

JOIN “THE GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL” ON FACEBOOK

IN CONJUNCTION WITH GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL

Advertisements

What it means to me to be the child of Holocaust Survivors

00000007

Not too long ago, a millennial of Asian descent asked me what it was like to be raised by Holocaust survivors.  The importance of indicating his background is to highlight the difference of his life from the life he was asking me about.  Although I think human beings are inherently the same when you break through all the superfluous crap, I recognize the impact environment and circumstance has on molding an individual.  So the question made me think about this topic more deeply than I had in quite some time, and in light of the events that have taken place in my life over the past 6 months I decided to share, in the hope that I help address issues of concern not just to people that fall into the same category that I do, but for people looking for answers about who they are and where they are going.

Since I am very aware that we live in a world where people often find sport in attacking the words that others share, let me make a few things very clear before you read on.  The information you are hopefully going to go on to read is not based on historically verified facts or scientific studies.  This is based entirely on my personal feelings and interpretations.  If your reaction is, “why should I care how he feels?”, that is fine with me.  Just like that same person can’t tell me I am right or wrong for how I feel, I can’t tell that same person what to care about.  But hopefully it is understood that at least part of my motivation is to help people that struggle with feelings they do not understand or even worse, understand but can’t deal with.

My initial response to the question was probably the most honest response I had ever given to any question regarding my parents and what it was like to be raised by people who lived through Nazi-occupation.  I called it 2 sides of the same coin.  On one side I recognized that there is an inevitable dysfunction to being raised by people who went through what my parents went through. On the other side of the coin, even before without addressing the special qualities my parents exhibited in their lifetime, being raised by Holocaust survivors almost forces you into seeing things that are more important than what is relatively superficial nonsense.

Coming out of the ashes of the war in 1945, it needs to be understood that not all Holocaust survivors had the same or even similar experience.  There seems to be a universal understanding among all decent people, whether they have a direct connection to Holocaust survivors or not, that degree of suffering is not a contest.  No one ever says to a Holocaust survivor that was not in a concentration camp that they were lucky in comparison to someone who survived the camps.  And while it is clear that had my father not helped my mother find places of refuge and do so much to keep her from being captured by the Nazis that she would have likely suffered horrors unimaginable likely followed by death, who is anyone to measure the devastation of seeing your world be decimated and the feelings associated with running for or fearing for your life for close to 5 years?  And who can understand seeing everything you know and believe in be wiped out as though it was a disease?  As soon as I was old enough to understand with some maturity what my parents went through, my value system was impacted by how I interpreted their life experiences.

I never felt guilt.  I was not made to feel that way.  Mostly because for as long as I can remember it was made very clear to me who the guilty parties were.  Nazi and Nazi collaborators were the mass murderers that murdered my ancestors, and living my life in a good and happy way would be more of a slap in the face to their efforts than it would be a disregard for what the Jewish people suffered through in my parents’ native Holland and the rest of Europe.  I have however always felt a responsibility.  It would probably take extensive therapy for me to understand to what extent I try to do good things and to what extents I follow Judaism based on the responsibility I feel, but I am honest enough to admit that it is certainly part of the equation.  I know that although in today’s very partisan political climate we can debate what is anti-Jewish sentiment or action, I do know that I have zero tolerance for those things I consider to fall into those categories.  This is about how I feel when I recognize that taking place in society or my environment.   I know that nothing feels more important to me than the survival of the Jewish people, but I also know I reconcile ethically by having the same intolerance for attacks on the survival of others, again, when I see it as taking place. This same factor explains why Israel is important to me.  Israel not only represents a safe haven for the Jewish people escaping persecution, but it also highlights the thoughts and ideas of those who have a disdain for the Jewish people.  That is not to say that any opposition to the positions of the Israeli government is anti-Jewish, but it does alert any honest individual to the fact that being anti-Israel is more often than not a code word for anti-Semitism.

So all of these viewpoints and philosophies are at least somewhat a result of being raised by Holocaust survivors.  But it would be hard to refute the idea that some of my flaws are not a result of that as well.  To know that for sure would be to know what degree of the imperfections of my parents were passed on to me are a result of their experience during the war was passed on to me.  I maintain that it may be close to impossible to identify that with any accuracy and I loved and respect my parents and their memory too much to pick apart whatever flaws they may have had, but I will offer up one fear I believe I inherited from my upbringing.  A fear, that to be brutally honest is very likely a contributing factor behind the time I have put into writing this piece and much of the other things I write.  It is the fear of not making a difference.  For my grandparents, my father’s parents who refused baptismal papers because they would only die the way they were born, as Jews, for my ancestors who were killed in the concentration camps, for the 6 million, and for my parents who felt the pain of that time until the day they died, I feel that I have a responsibility to do something that matters.  There is a fine line however between feeling a sense of responsibility and feeling a burden, and although I was not made to feel guilt, whenever that sense of responsibility has felt like a burden, a feeling of guilt sets in, because I know, that my “burden” is nothing compared to those that suffered during that time.  Nevertheless, it is a reality that sits with me and one I need to address from time to time.

I do leave you with two very important points.  First one being that one of the reasons I am writing this piece is to hopefully help any other children of Holocaust survivors with unresolved feelings they may have difficulty dealing with, and the second one is to accentuate the most important factor in this entire discussion.  The Holocaust was a reality.  The enormity of it was so significant that it not only resulted in the murder of 6 million Jews but it still impacts the world and generations in so many ways.  The specifics being a discussion for another time.  Reality, good or bad, does not disappear just because you want it to.  It does not disappear because of perverse and distorted ideologies.  It needs to be confronted, something I will continue to do that for as long as I am able.  Sometimes it is my burden, but I am thankful to God for the fact that usually it is my responsibility.  One I accept without issue.

LIKE THIS POST? SHARE IT ON FACEBOOK OR TWITTER

HOW TO BUY THE BOOK

JOIN “THE GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL” ON FACEBOOK

IN CONJUNCTION WITH GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL


Why we need to stop the misuse of the word “Nazi”

AP_4304191143-1000x674

In recent years there has been a growing and concerning trend in regard to a word as familiar globally as any other word.  That word is Nazi. The trend I speak of is in the use of the word in a descriptive, subjective form, as opposed to the literally specific form necessary to keep an understanding of the evil it represents.

A number of people who knew that I intended to write this piece have actually thanked me for doing so.  Any attempt to try to change the thought pattern of an anti-Semite or other form of bigot that uses Holocaust denial as a means of forwarding a perverse agenda is a waste of time.  A more worthwhile venture is to make sure those who have open minds and pure hearts are afforded the opportunity to know the truth.  The truth is that improper use of the word Nazi dilutes the horrors of what took place under the Nazi-occupation in Europe.

This post is neither a political statement nor an apology for those that misuse power.  This is more of a perspective check. Calling someone a Nazi because they do something damaging to other individuals, or even worse calling them one because it is your perception they are doing so, detracts from some critical facts.

Adolf Hitler’s Nazi war machine sought out and killed in staggering numbers.  According to jewishvirtualibrary.org the numbers break down as follows.

Jews: up to 6 million

Soviet civilians: around 7 million (including 1.3 Soviet Jewish civilians, who are included in the 6 million figure for Jews)

Soviet prisoners of war: around 3 million (including about 50,000 Jewish soldiers)

Non-Jewish Polish civilians: around 1.8 million (including between 50,000 and 100,000 members of the Polish elites)

Serb civilians (on the territory of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina): 312,000

People with disabilities living in institutions: up to 250,000

Roma: 196,000–220,000

Jehovah‘s Witnesses: around 1,900

Repeat criminal offenders and so-called asocials: at least 70,000

German political opponents and resistance activists in Axis-occupied territory: undetermined

Homosexuals: hundreds, possibly thousands (possibly also counted in part under the 70,000 repeat criminal offenders and so-called asocials noted above).

As a son of Dutch Jewish Holocaust survivors, the Jewish number hits very close to home, as it does or has done for many others I have known or still know over the course of my lifetime.  The Nazis destroyed entire worlds.  They wiped out an entire Jewish civilization in a large percentage of Europe.  They tortured, they raped, they conducted experiments, made people dig graves before shooting them in cold blood, and put together one of the most efficiently cruel means of mass murder by gassing to death multitudes of people.  Frankly, although these facts are accurate, this does not capture the true horror of what took place.  For that one needs to research the numerous pictures and accounts of the events that took place.

And yet many people today refer to anyone with ideologies opposed to their own as a Nazi.  This is not a left and right issue.  This is also not a justification nor a means of disregarding dangerous viewpoints or ideologies.  What this is instead is a specific statement as to what separated Nazi Germany from much of what people refer to today as Nazi behavior.  I’ve seen people on the right call Barack Obama a Nazi.  I’ve seen people on the left call Donald Trump a Nazi.  You can criticize, even despise the Iran deal or the situation on the border, but neither of these facts put either president even close to being in the same category as Adolf Hitler.  Furthermore, even if one would feel strong critique for Israel’s handling of the Palestinian situation or feel a disdain for Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, invoking Nazi atrocities as a comparison to today’s Israel is nothing more than a disingenuous use of a term to promote a dangerous anti-Semitic political agenda.

None of this is to say that we should turn a blind eye to the dangers that exist both in our respective countries or abroad.  But it is important to note, that if one is to learn from history it starts by doing everything necessary to study it accurately.  What the Nazis did  between 1933 and 1945 is perpetrate an evil unlike anything the world had ever seen.  To improperly identify and remember what took place not only dishonors all those murdered, it puts us all in greater danger of seeing it take place once again.

LIKE THIS POST? SHARE IT ON FACEBOOK OR TWITTER

HOW TO BUY THE BOOK

READ MORE OF WHAT I HAVE TO SAY IN THE COMMON SENSE LIBERAL

JOIN “THE GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL” ON FACEBOOK

GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL IS NOW ON TWITTER @gcimovement

IN CONJUNCTION WITH GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL


Holland’s Heroes

Flag-Pins-Israel-Netherlands

In the 7 years since I started the website Holland’s Heroes this will be the first time I have chosen to use the name of the website as a title for a post.  Why now?  It’s because in light of recent events it has become clear to me that I am in a family that has had the benefit of the actions of some remarkable and righteous Dutch people. People who clearly are Holland’s Heroes.

Although time and the world’s natural order of things has caused the number of Holocaust survivors to steadily diminish, in many cases, even if the survivors are no longer here, there are still the families remaining of these survivors.  Many of these families only exist today because of the righteous and heroic actions of people that endangered themselves and the lives of their families in order to save those they descended from.  It’s been my experience that anyone who  knows of a hero or family that did something to help save the life, offer support or preserve the memory of someone in their family  feels tremendously blessed and grateful that these heroes were there for their ancestors in the worst of times.  So imagine how blessed I feel to be able to tell you of 3 families that had such an impact on my family.

Ranking the actions of great people is something that would potentially diminish how special their actions were, so I’ve determined that the most fair order in which to mention these people is in the order in which I learned of them in my lifetime.

Lubertus & Geeske te Kiefte

te Kieftes_00008A

Since the time I began telling the story of my parents’ survival of the Holocaust I’ve also been telling the story of the te Kieftes.  That’s also because since the time I was old enough to know anything about my family I knew about the people we lovingly refer to as Oom Bertus and Tante Geesje.  In Nazi-occupied Holland, going from contact to contact established through the resistance, my father would ultimately help my mother find the place she would spend the last 16 months of the war.  Here she would be treated like a member of the family while more importantly she would be protected from the Nazis.  Oom Bertus, a builder, would build her a special secret room under his workplace where she would sleep, hidden from Nazi soldiers in the event of a surprise raid.  Other than one man, the entire town of Lemerlerveld would be on board with the te Kieftes in making sure this young, very Jewish looking woman would remain safe.  The one man in question would have it made very clear by Bertus and other active members of the resistance what would happen to him should something happen to their Jewish guest.  Post war the relationship between our families has been like family, and I can say without  pause that even without the actions of Bertus and Geeske this family is as special a group of people as any I have ever known.

Jan Van den Berg

66319916_319587232264371_7187367469068058624_n

The best friend of my grandfather Marcel Rodrigues, Jan Van den Berg had more opportunities to prove this friendship than most would ever expect.  The depth of his friendship went beyond his relationship with my grandfather, as he would be there for his friend’s daughter, my mother Sipora, any time it was needed.  As my mother was preparing to escape Amsterdam with my father, an escape as dangerous as any one could ever imagine, their one and only welcomed stop was in the Van den Berg home.  This was because this was the last true safe place they could rest and get some nourishment before their trip.  As time would bare out, Oom Jan as we knew him, would not only never say no to his best friend’s daughter, he would go above and beyond in ways one should never forget.  When the war ended and Sipora would return to Amsterdam, had it not been for the emotional and practical assistance of the Van den Berg’s, she might not have survived the post-war travails.  Returning to Amsterdam pregnant where she would later give birth to her oldest son Marcel, Sipora would take ill only months into her young child’s life.  Suspected of contracting Tuberculosis, later to be confirmed as Pleurisy, Sipora would be put into quarantine.  Unable to care for her child, Oom Jan and Tante Toos would care for Marcel while Sipora was in quarantine.  He would be cared for as one of their own.  My brother Marcel and sister-in-law Bernice would name their oldest daughter Jennifer, the “J” being in honor of Oom Jan.  On July 21st of this year I had the great pleasure and honor of meeting their great grandson Jelmer and his family on my trip to Holland.

Johnny de Haan

Group

Besides being something incredibly special for my family, recent events are also a lesson for anyone whose family survived the Holocaust.  Not everyone and not everything has been revealed or discovered.  We tend to think that all the stories have been told and that there is very little new and important information we can share with the world.  Besides being factually inaccurate, in today’s global climate it has become even more important to continue to share these important stories.  Naturally I tell this story with personal bias, but I can also tell you that in sharing it with people of all ages and all walks of life, I have found that the one word most often used when responding to the story, is “Wow”.

With the Nazis occupying and controlling Amsterdam, in the summer of 1943 my grandfather Marcel Rodrigues and my uncle Bram Rodrigues chose to make an attempt to escape to Switzerland.  Before they left Bram went to his close friend and band mate Johnny de Haan to ask him to look after his violin till he returned home.  As was the case with 6 million European Jews, my Oom Bram never returned.  However, Johnny de Haan safeguarded the violin till his death 7 years ago. When he passed away his son Wim, understanding the importance the violin always had to his father,  continued what his father had started.  Until a recent examination of his father’s diary and subsequently finding more information online because of the book Jew Face, Wim, who till now thought Bram left no living relatives, would find me.  Upon making this discovery he contact me and we would set up the July 21st event in which he gave the violin to me and my siblings.  The rest as they say, is history.

But is’t not JUST history.  It’s present day as well.  Wim gave value to the violin, a desire to return it to the family of his father’s friend, and a warmth and friendship that has drawn a connection to the friendship taken away from 2 young men 76 years ago.  Wim’s mother, an unsung hero in this story, and someone I had the honor to meet, would dust off the violin on a regular basis.  All of this is why I say this is more than the actions of one good man.  It is a family that helped keep the memory alive and is directly responsible for creating the legacy for one of the 6 million murdered souls of the Holocaust.  That soul belongs to my uncle, Bram Rodrigues.

We live in a day and age where negativity sells, so if the positive nature of this post doesn’t appeal to you that is you personal choice.  But I urge you all to realize that in telling these stories we not only help keep the story alive, but maybe we bring more stories such as these to the surface.  We must not only never forget, but we must always continue to remind the rest of the world.

LIKE THIS POST? SHARE IT ON FACEBOOK OR TWITTER

HOW TO BUY THE BOOK

READ MORE OF WHAT I HAVE TO SAY IN THE COMMON SENSE LIBERAL

JOIN “THE GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL” ON FACEBOOK

GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL IS NOW ON TWITTER @gcimovement

IN CONJUNCTION WITH GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL

 


An Important Poll and lesson on telling the story of the Holocaust

I urge everyone to put personal bias aside and take a moment to read this article from CNN.com.   It discusses Anti-Semitism in Europe while going into some detail about the lack of understanding or even worse, knowledge of existence of the Holocaust.  There IS a direct correlation between increasing hostility towards the Jewish people and lack of information about what happened to the Jewish people during Nazi occupation.  Yes, anti-Semitism existed before the Holocaust and seperate from the Holocaust, but making the average citizen of the world know where ignorance and hatred can lead is a critical element in preventing it in the future.

Each one of you who takes it upon yourself to combat the rise of hatred will do it in your own way, and as long as your intentions are pure, no one should speak against what direction you go in doing so. I will do so by sharing as many of the most important stories of real people as I possibly can.

Personally I believe the most important lesson to be learned from this poll is not how to deal with the perpetrators of hatred and hostility, but in how to tell the masses of decent people the truth, so that they can stand up against those perpetrators.  I don’t claim to know the answer to stopping those who are evil and self-serving, but I can do my part in telling the much larger number of good people the truth, and hope that they will stand with us against the evil ones, much as the righteous people connected to my family did during the 2nd World War.

Never Again.

LIKE THIS POST? SHARE IT ON FACEBOOK OR TWITTER

HOW TO BUY THE BOOK

READ MORE OF WHAT I HAVE TO SAY IN THE COMMON SENSE LIBERAL

JOIN “THE GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL” ON FACEBOOK

GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL IS NOW ON TWITTER @gcimovement

IN CONJUNCTION WITH GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL


Why this is my most important Tisha B’Av

 

benchdg2

This year, starting on the evening of August 10th till the evening of August 11th, the Jewish people commemorate the day known as Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av.  It is the day that commemorates the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem and as it is universally recognized as the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, it is also a day in which the Jewish people remember the greatest tragedies in our history.  Specifically for those of us in this generation, the murder of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust.  For me personally, in many ways this is my most important Tisha B’Av.

When I wrote the book Jew Face, telling about my parent’s experiences in Holland during the Nazi-occupation, one of the most remarkable aspects of writing it was that I felt as though I went back into time and was with my parents as young adults.  This experience, for lack of a better term, was an incredibly “cool” experience and to be honest one I loved experiencing.  But as is the case with so much in life there is a flip side.  In my recent trip to Amsterdam that same, I guess I will call it sensation, returned for the first time since writing the book.  Except this time it was not as pleasant.  Walking through Amsterdam, specifically the former Jewish neighborhoods, I felt the horror that took place between 1940 and 1945.  Standing in front of what was once the “NIZ”, the Dutch Jewish Hospital,  I could almost sense the Nazi trucks approaching, the soldiers storming the building, and knew that I was within meters of the place where my mother shouted to the chief Nazi administrator, ” why are you doing this?”, to which he replied, “ask the Rabbis”.  I walked on the street that was likely my father’s favorite street on any given Shabbat and could feel what was once an incredible presence of Judaism.  I walked through the streets of Amsterdam at times feeling what I could only describe as the presence of ghosts in what to me was in some ways a graveyard of what was once a thriving Jewish community.

I recognize that I can not know how much of this experience was real and how much of it was just something I felt from within, but since it was more an experience than an overall state of mind I don’t feel it matters one way or another.  What does matter however, as I get close to the commemoration of the saddest day of the Jewish year, that I felt the greatest sadness I have ever felt as a Jew for the plight of my people.  Intellectually I have understood the importance of Tisha B’Av for much of my life.  Emotionally however, I have never understood as I do today, and go into it with an understanding that makes this my most important Tisha B’Av.  A Tisha B’Av in which I have a better emotional understanding of the pain and suffering this day honors and remembers, and the hope that that same pain and suffering is not only never something the Jewish people ever experience again, but that the evil that causes it is never given the power to do that anywhere again or to anyone again on this earth.

LIKE THIS POST? SHARE IT ON FACEBOOK OR TWITTER

HOW TO BUY THE BOOK

READ MORE OF WHAT I HAVE TO SAY IN THE COMMON SENSE LIBERAL

JOIN “THE GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL” ON FACEBOOK

GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL IS NOW ON TWITTER @gcimovement

IN CONJUNCTION WITH GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL

 


The Jewish Window of Amsterdam

Window

The Jewish Window of Amsterdam (street name has been distorted intentionally)

As I wrote this I realized this story is filled with so many of the attributes I believe exist in so much of today’s world, be it Jewish or not.  The 2 most prevalent in what you are about to read are on 2 different sides of the emotional spectrum. The first one is sadness, the second one is hope.  Spoiler alert and good news for those who prefer to feel optimism and inspiration from what they read.  I conclude with hope.

It should be noted as I start this piece that in my recent trip to Holland I spent all but one day in Amsterdam and only prayed in one synagogue, a warm and welcoming one in the Amsterdam suburb of Amstelveen.  So although I believe in the information I am sharing, I acknowledge that it is indeed based mostly on my opinion and on a relatively small sample of experience.  That being said, my feelings are feelings I feel strongly about and are also based on the truth of what Dutch Judaism once was.

It is also important that I mention that in all my interactions with anyone Jewish during my 6 days in Holland I found people to be friendly and agreeable.  Also, although I have heard a lot about European anti-Semitism and do not question the accuracy of the reports, I personally was exposed to no specific evidence of it during my trip. So although it is possible that infighting is still a thing in Dutch Jewry and it is certainly possible or even likely that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Holland as it is in so many parts of Europe, it would be disingenuous on my part to claim a negative experience where one doesn’t exist.

So then from a Jewish standpoint, what was it that pained me most about my recent trip to Holland? It had to do with how little of  Dutch Jewry was left and my perception of what so much of Judaism in Holland has become.  It’s become a tourist attraction.

Part of this is no surprise to anyone reading this piece.  After all, ask anyone about what they know about Amsterdam and they will undoubtedly mention Anne Frank’s house, the Portuguese Synagogue, or both.  Two places that hold different meaning to me than they do to so many others,  be they Jewish or not.  Although I appreciate the attention Anne Frank’s house brings to the history of the Jews in Holland and Europe, and I believe in anything that teaches the world the horrors of Nazi-occupation, having had a mother who hid during those years and survived to tell her story,  Anne Frank’s house is not so much for people like me as it is for people with no personal connection to the history.

The Portuguese Synagogue, a thing of beauty, was the synagogue my mother belonged to as a child.  In my recent visit to the place Dutch refer to as the “Esnoga”, more than half of my time was spent looking through the records to find membership cards of people I descend from.  When I walked into the main sanctuary I felt a connection, knowing that many years back there were many people related to me that called this place home, regardless of how regularly they attended.  As beautiful of a place as it is, and as many pictures as I took,  it was so much more to me than a mere tourist attraction.

The day after the event in which Wim de Haan gave the violin his father protected for my Uncle Bram to me and my siblings, I went on my own private tour of Amsterdam. On the canal ride we passed what the tour operator referred to as the old Jewish section.  When I went back to what was previously the Dutch Jewish Hospital (NIZ) and the Jewish Invalid Hospital (The Joodse Invalide), despite the powerful connections I felt, these institutions were brought down to very little more than a few plaques.

On the way back to the immediate area near the Portuguese Synagogue I found a bank of a canal that had a memorial of 200 residents of the immediate area. The memorial was known as the “Shadow Wall”, plaques put into the ground near the banks of the canal.

When I stood in front of the Esnoga, to the left was an entrance to a side street with a banner that read “the Jewish Quarter” where a Jewish Museum now stands. If  you cross to the right you find yourself on the Rappenburgerstraat, the street my father spoke of often and always represented the heart of my father’s Jewish life and the center of so much of Amsterdam’s Orthodox Ashkenazi Jewish world.  I walked up and down the street, a street once filled with synagogues and Jewish schools, only to find another plaque and some buildings with some Hebrew writing.

In conversations I had with non-Jews while in Holland, I found them to be gracious, kind  and compassionate about what once was while also in many instances detached as anyone would be towards something so far removed from their reality.  In my contact with  Jewish people during my trip, as I indicated earlier I found them to be warm and pleasant, including my time praying in the synagogue in Amstelveen.  In my contact with both parties I came to the conclusion that neither the Jewish people in Amsterdam nor the non-Jewish Dutch citizens of Holland are responsible for what Dutch Jewry has become.  That being said, the reality as I saw it was that it is now more a tourist attraction than it is a thriving community.  As I walked through parts of a city that sometimes felt to me like a Jewish graveyard, a city at the very core of my roots, I felt an immense sadness.

But then I saw the window.  Having concluded the final part of my tour of Jewish Amsterdam I began to walk towards Amsterdam’s Central Station.  Walking past the market, numerous shops, bars and restaurants, I came to a corner with a souvenir store, where in the window above this little store I saw the most organic symbol of Judaism I had seen not only in all of Amsterdam, but anywhere in a long time.  The symbol  I would come to see as the faint heartbeat of what once was a city in which 1 in every 10 people were Jews.   In that window I saw a Menorah, 2 Sabbath candle holders, and a spice box used for the Havdalah ceremony on the conclusion of the Sabbath.  Although not something anyone would pay to see, for me personally it was one of the most fascinating images of my entire trip.

The fact that my perception of Judaism in Holland had dwindled down to not much more than a tourist attraction is not meant as an indictment of Dutch Jews or non-Jews, rather another reminder of the evil precision in which Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party destroyed a civilization in Europe. That being said, that one small window in the center of Amsterdam felt to me like a flame that was never extinguished and a the hope that Judaism might one day thrive again in Amsterdam.

LIKE THIS POST? SHARE IT ON FACEBOOK OR TWITTER

HOW TO BUY THE BOOK

READ MORE OF WHAT I HAVE TO SAY IN THE COMMON SENSE LIBERAL

JOIN “THE GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL” ON FACEBOOK

GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL IS NOW ON TWITTER @gcimovement

IN CONJUNCTION WITH GLOBAL COALITION FOR ISRAEL