Tag Archives: Oosterwegel

Being Jewish on Christmas

jewishchThe most intriguing thing for me as I sit and write this is the question continuously going through my mind.  Although I write this for everyone, is this piece more important for those close to me who are Jewish, or those close to me who are not?  Maybe I’ll have my answer by the time I finish it, but for now let me first begin by wishing all those who celebrate the holiday a very Merry Christmas.

Now that I may have lost the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish and Atheists among the readers let me continue.

Let me begin by stating the obvious.  Jesus, as we all know, was Jewish.  So being Jewish on Christmas is a complicated concept to begin with.  This past week I had a mini debate with someone who insisted that Jesus converted to Christianity.  I insisted that was not true.  This person insisted they were told that in school, while I assured them they were never told any such thing.  Now of course I can’t be sure what the teachers actually said, but to the best of my understanding Jesus lived as a Jew and died as a Jew.  Christianity was the religion formed from those who followed him and believed him to be the Messiah as understood by Jewish teachings.  To the best of my understanding Jesus never turned away from Judaism, he just created a following of those who felt he was the Messiah, or Savior which subsequently caused him to be seen as a problem by many in the Jewish hierarchy, an issue that causes some to accuse the Jews of killing Jesus, even though in reality it was the Romans.

Now that I may have lost the ignorant and anti-Semitic among the readers let me continue further.

I was very fortunate to grow up in a household that was, in many ways open-minded.  Christmas decorations, movies, and music were all appreciated for their beauty and not seen as a threat to our religious makeup.  The result of this is me being an adult Jewish male capable of enjoying the atmosphere in households with Christmas trees, decorations and Christmas music and lights.  It’s all very nice and uncomplicated and allows me to enjoy whatever situation I am thrown into, or dare I say even pursue this time of year.  What all this does not do is answer the one question.  What does it mean to be Jewish on Christmas?

Well the first answer is very simply, it depends on the person.  I know that to some Jewish people it means nothing.  Although some do find it diametrically opposed to all they believe in, for many of those that fall into this category it is not something negative, merely something insignificant.  I understand this point of view because to those who focus entirely on the religious aspect, Christmas is something to be celebrated only by those who believe in Jesus being more than a man.  I remember a trip I took to London that included me being there on December 25th.  The majority of my friends, people who I went to an Orthodox Jewish day school with, were getting together with their families for “Christmas dinner”.  In fact I was told that in the days leading up to Christmas the Kosher butchers sold turkeys by the dozens and ended up selling out of them completely.  To these friends of mine this was clearly not a religious pursuit, rather it was an opportunity to get together with their family and have good food and some fun.  Not unlike Thanksgiving Day in the United States.

I dare say that to some Jews there may even exist a phenomenon that could be called Christmas envy.  It is why sometimes we say Merry Christmas first, just to get a “same to you” response.  After all, who wants to be excluded from “good will to all men”? I sure as hell know I don’t.

Now that I may have lost those who feel the use of the word “hell” is inappropriate and not Godly let me conclude.

I like Christmas.  It is a nice holiday, filled with good food, pretty sights and the best of intentions.  If you believe as I do, that the major difference between Jews and Catholics is really only whether or not the next coming is the first one or the second, you have no trouble with any of the religious significance.  When no religiously motivated hatred exists on either side, all that really matters is the fact that people are getting together with those they care about, or at the very least like enough to be at a party with.  For many Catholics who indeed celebrate Christmas, the religious significance is not what is even important to them about the holiday. Instead it’s the decorations, food, and family, making it not at all complicated for me to justify my enjoying it as well.

So to all of you who celebrate, or to those of you like me who have a good time any time I am invited to be part of the celebration, Merry Christmas.

And should there be any out there who I lost at this point because they felt that as a Jew I should not be so comfortable in speaking of the beauty that can surround Christmas, I urge you to read the following excerpt from the book “Jew Face”.  It is indeed one of my personal favorite excerpts and speaks of my parents and their experience on Christmas Eve 1944 in what was then Nazi-occupied Holland.

 

 

Excerpt from “Jew Face”:

Christmas Eve

It had been close to a year now since Sipora had arrived in Lemerlerveld, and although she hoped and prayed that she would not have to live out her days in the conditions in which she currently found herself, the te Kieftes had been extraordinary in their treatment of her and Nardus, and the people of the village had made her feel as much at home as they were able to under the circumstances.

There was no hatred toward the Jewish people in Lemerlerveld. However, being that the population of the town was mainly Protestant, Jewish practices, customs, and holidays were not part of the life here, and living there meant that Nardus and Sipora could not practice their faith. With the positive treatment they received, they were welcomed by Bertus and Geeske, as well as their family and friends, to celebrate their events and holidays.

So on December 24, 1944, as the German forces had fallen in the south, and the Allies moved closer to what they all hoped would be the end of the brutal occupation of Europe, Nardus and Sipora were invited to join the Christmas Eve dinner and celebration at the Oosterwegels household.

For one night, it felt like all the horror, sadness, and tragedy was frozen in time. The night was a special one. The atmosphere was wonderful. The home was filled with the warm glow of candles and the aroma of a special meal. The guest list was a mix of people from town, Bertus and Geeske with their two children, Bertus’s brother with his family, underground activists, Communists, and Nardus and Sipora. Maybe the specter of an impending Allied victory made the evening more special, but the warmth and joy present on this night was something neither Nardus nor Sipora would ever forget.

There are days, events, and situations when the world feels like one place, when people who come from different backgrounds and different beliefs come together under God’s watchful eye and show that even with all the force and determination of evil forces, good still survives and, on occasion, even thrives. When the manner in which you worship takes a back seat to the basic fact that you do worship. And all that has happened and will happen doesn’t matter for those moments that get frozen in time, bring joy to many, and give everyone the hope that there will be a reason to continue on with life’s efforts.

Christmas Eve 1944 in Lemerlerveld, in the Oosterwegel household, was one of those nights, and Sipora and Nardus were glad to be part of it.

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Complete List of Names in “Jew Face”

This page is a listing of every name mentioned in the book “Jew Face:A story of love and heroism in Nazi-occupied Holland.”

The book is the story of Nardus and Sipora Groen.  They are the first 2 names mentioned in the book.  The following is a listing of every other name mentioned in the book.

1-Leendert Groen – father of Nardus

2-Maryan Groen -Zeelander-mother of Nardus

3-Meyer Groen -brother of Nardus

4-David Groen -brother of Nardus

5-Sofia Groen -sister of Nardus

6-Elizabeth Groen -sister of Nardus

7-Meyer Roos -librarian in Jewish ghetto(unconfirmed first name)

8-Becca Roos -librarian in Jewish ghetto(unconfirmed first name)

9-Marcel Rodrigues -Lopes-father of Sipora

10-Deborah Rodrigues-Lopes -mother of Sipora

11-Abraham(Bram) Rodrigues-Lopes -brother of Sipora

12-Emmy -housekeeper in Sipora’s house

13-Hans de Jong -fiance of Sipora

14-Hetty de Jong -sister of Hans

15-Neville Chamberlain -British Prime Minister

16-Jacques Baruch -Brother in law of Nardus (married to Sofia) and Active member of Dutch and later French resistance

17-Dirk Jan de Geer -Dutch Prime Minister

18-Queen Wilhelmina -Queen of the Netherlands

19-Pieter Gerbrandy -Dutch Prime Minister

20- Arthur Seyss-Inquart -Austrian born  Nazi  leader. Top official in the Netherlands

21-Adolph Hitler -Head of Nazi party

22-Benito Mussolini -fascist ruler of Italy

23- Francisco Franco -fascist leader of Spain

24- Anton Mussert Head of Dutch fascist party (NSB)

25- David Van Hasselt -cousin of Sipora

26-Aaron Mozes -brother in law of Nardus. (Married to Elizabeth)

27-Ferdinand aus der Funten -Nazi administrator in Amsterdam

28-Sam Abram -friend of Nardus

29- Nettie Abram -sister of Sam Abram

30-Block -Dutch Nazi informant (first name unconfirmed)

31-Cornelius Gugjes -Alias of Nardus

32-Jan Coopman -Underground contact (unconfirmed name)

33- Roe Groen -sister in law of Nardus (married to Meyer)

34- Martha Groen -sister in law of Nardus (married to David)

35- Thea -niece of Nardus (daughter of David & Martha)

36- Lilly -friend of Sipora

37- Jan Van de Berg -best friend of Marcel Rodrigues-Lopes

38- Reina Van Creveld -friend of Nardus and Directress of NIZ (Hospital)

39- Schapman -Black marketeer in Zwolle

40- Jan Henraat -Alias of Nardus

41- Joop Van de Berg -farmer near Zwolle (unconfirmed first name)

42- Jan Boekman -owner of boat where Sipora worked and found shelter (unconfirmed name)

43- Spegt -alias of high level operative in Dutch resistance (real name believed to be Stoker)

44-Minister Vogelaar – Religious leader from Lemerlerveld

45-Kruithof -Resistance operative who provided shelter to Sipora

46- Den Olde -Young couple that provided shelter to Sipora

47-Tinie -Alias of Sipora

48-Albert Jan Immink -high level Resistance operative

49-Jansje Immink -wife of Albert Jan

50-Lubertus te Kiefte -high level resistance operative. Provided shelter to Sipora

51-Geeske te Kiefte -wife of Lubertus. Provided shelter to Sipora

52-Gerrit te Kiefte -Son of Lubertus and Geeske

53-Jan te Kiefte -brother of Lubertus

54-Tina te Kiefte -wife of Jan te Kiefte

55-Gerrit Jan te Kiefte -son of Jan and Tina

56-Lies te Kiefte -daughter of Jan and Tina

57-Aaltje te Kiefte -daughter of Jan and Tina

58-Carly -Jewish boy in hiding at home of Jan and Tina

59-Kryn Hoogeboom -mobile supermarket owner in Lemerlerveld

60-Minister Keres -religious leader in Lemerlerveld

61-Schapman -NSB (Dutch fascist party) member in Lemerlerveld (unconfirmed first name)

62-Oosterwegel -high level resistance operative in Lemerlerveld (unconfirmed first name)

63- Aunt Anna- relative of Lubertus and Geeske and mobile nurse in Lemerlerveld

64-Aantje te Kiefte -daughter of Lubertus and Geeske

65-Johann Baptist Albin Rauter -top Nazi SS leader in the Netherlands

66-Joop -nephew of Lubertus and Geeske (unconfirmed last name)

67-Marcel Lubertus Groen -son of Nardus and Sipora

68-Rabbi Tal -Chief Rabbi of Holland after the war

69-Leo Groen -son of Nardus and Sipora

70-Bernice Groen -wife of Marcel Groen

71-Ruben Groen -son of Nardus and Sipora

72-Professor Jacob Marcus -high level Director at Hebrew Union College and religious leader in Cincinnati

73-Rabbi Eleizer Silver -Head of Agudah North America, Orthodox Rabbi and religious leader in Cincinnati

74-Rabbi Goldfeder -religious leader and Conservative Rabbi in Cincinnati

75-Deborah Miriam Groen -daughter of Nardus and Sipora

76- David Groen -son of Nardus and Sipora