Friday, 26 October 2018

Falling over a reminiscence: a whimsical smile

Before I made Aliyah, I had lived a sheltered life; never met many foreigners.

Kibbutz Magen, where I lived for almost six years, was like a Jewish United Nations.
The founders of the kibbutz were young Romanian Holocaust survivors. In the 1950s an Israeli youth group joined the kibbutz and in the early 1960s my group came: young Jews from Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and I.

Then there were the miscellaneous: a group of young people my age from Eastern Europe who were brought up on the kibbutz because their parents, who lived in Israel, were not able to support them, and a small group of young French Jews.

It is a few months before the Six Day War.
I am out of paratrooper training and allowed to go back to my border kibbutz in the Negev more often.
I have my room back which is next to my best friend Tzvi, who originated from Austria. My other good friend is Avraham who came from Poland.

During my roomless period when I was doing paratrooper training, I used to sometimes sleep on a stretcher in Gad’s room.
Gad came originally from Romania and was a bit older than me.

Miriam was from France. We were as different as chalk and cheese. We hardly spoke to each other.
She lived next door to Gad.

On one Friday night I ended up in Miriam’s room. Cannot blame it on alcohol, because there was no booze on the kibbutz.

I had forgotten something.
I had a New Zealand cousin who lived with his wife and two young daughters on nearby kibbutz Nirim. My cousin and his wife liked to pamper me.
He was coming the next day to pick me up on an old Egyptian motorbike with sidecar for a Shabbat lunch with them in Nirim.

My cousin turned up and went to my room. Kibbutz rooms are never locked. He walked in and saw that my bed had not been slept in.
He went next door to ask Tzvi where I was. Tzvi did not know.

Then the two of them went to Avraham’s room to see if he knew where I was. He did not know.
There are now three of them looking for me.
They went round to Gad’s. He did not know where I was either.

The four of them are now standing together trying to figure out where I am. They are standing right outside Miriam’s window.
I got dressed and walked out of Miriam’s room.
The look of surprise on their faces was wonderful.

Avraham died a few years later from a wound he received in the Six Day War. My cousin died of cancer. I do not know if the other people in my story are alive or dead.

When writing about people from my past I see them again; usually as silhouettes. That is a bitter, sweet experience.
I remember them with a whimsical smile, but I am also sad because it is the past.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

The Anne Frank just for Jews

The two major Anne Frank organizations in Europe have their domicile in Amsterdam and Basel.

In Amsterdam, the "Anne Frank Stichting" only has authority over the house where she was hidden, and has little connection to the Jewish community.
It is an NGO that markets Anne Frank and the Holocaust as a general warning against discrimination, racism and bigotry in modern society.
They spend their profit on projects against discrimination.

The "Anne Frank Fonds" in Basel has the intellectual copyright for her diary. It was set up by Otto Frank and is run by Jews.
They spend their profit on left-wing Jewish things.
The two Anne Frank organizations do not get on well with each other.

The Basel Anne Frank sees all Jews as the “descendants” of Anne Frank, because she was Jewish and the victim of antisemitism.
The Amsterdam Anne Frank is not so categorical, as it emphasizes the story of Anne Frank as a general warning against prejudice and discrimination. 
Therefore, all who suffer from prejudice and discrimination are her "descendants".
This goes some way to supporting the left-wing misappropriation of the legacy of Anne Frank and the Holocaust.

The left-wing misappropriation does not deny the Holocaust.
Far from it, it emphasizes that the Jews who were killed were the victims of a terrible slaughter caused by discrimination, racism and bigotry.
Essential is the emphasis placed on Jews being victims in the past.
According to the misappropriation, today’s live Jews, the Zionists, are not victims. They are the oppressors; perpetrators of indiscriminate killing of innocents. The modern equivalent of the Nazis.
Therefore, the victims of today's live Jews are the real descendants of Anne Frank and the Jews killed in the Holocaust.
For these people, Palestinians like Ahed Tamimi are modern-day Anne Franks.

Wait a minute, you may say, many of these "modern-day" Anne Franks have the same hatred of Jews as the Nazis who killed the original Anne Frank. They even use the same language.
The misappropriation will reply that this is the fault of the live Jews themselves. If they had not oppressed the Muslims, the Muslims would not want to slaughter them.
This is similar to the viewpoint of Nazi apologists of the Holocaust. 
They maintain that if the Jews had not tried to control the world, Hitler would not have had to kill them.
The misappropriation of the legacy of Anne Frank is an example of the new left-wing form of antisemitism.

There are some variations on the position of live Jews in the misappropriation.
When fascists attack Jews, the Jews are victims.
When Muslims attack Jews, the Muslims are the oppressed rising up against the oppressors, the Jews.

Is there no Anne Frank left just for us live Jews?
Yes there is, the Anne Frank after the diary, in Bergen-Belsen; covered in lice, cold, starving, little more than a skeleton and dying from typhus.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

My guys, Shakespeare and Pope

A culture is the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.
Many British people see the rules, habits and interference of the EU as an attack on their culture and national identity. 
I could probably fill a book with examples.

I have been an expat for 50 years. Not so long ago, I switched back to talking and writing in English.
I did not comment on Brexit because it does not affect me and I do not completely understand it as an economic phenomenon.
I can understand Brexit as a cultural phenomenon. As a reaction to the “unheimlich” feeling that outsiders are chipping away at your ideas, customs and social behavior.
It is not only the EU, but the EU is a concrete enemy.

I had two good school friends. One was Welsh the other was from Malta. We were inclusive. We read (British) Shakespeare and recited (British) Pope together. The Battle of Hastings was part of our history.

If there is a cultural war going on, I am on the side of Shakespeare and Pope.

Monday, 8 October 2018

"There is no pride in being Dutch"

In the Netherlands, May 4 is Remembrance Day and May 5 is Liberation Day.
The Dutch dead from the Second World War and later conflicts are remembered, and the liberation from Nazi Germany is celebrated.

The Netherlands used to be inhabited by people born there or born in a (former) Dutch colony.
These people could relate to the commemorations of important events in recent Dutch history.

Then the, mainly Muslim, immigrants came.
They were “victims” of the west and certainly did not relate to these Dutch events. The remembrance of Dutch Jews (more than half of the war dead) was also a sore point.

Was not this remembering and celebrating too nationalistic?
For some it was. They proposed that every ethnic group remember their own dead and celebrate their own liberation on the two days.

In practice, these ethnic groups already commemorated the national remembrance and liberation days of the countries they came from.
Now on May 4 and May 5 they could have second commemorations.
They have the Dutch nationality and live in the Netherlands, but there is no need for them to commemorate Dutch events.

Many ethnic Moroccan youths used to hang out on the streets of the Diamond neighbourhood in Amsterdam.
In their Moroccan sub-culture the house is a place for the women and there are strict rules there.
On the streets they rule.

The youth workers of the Dutch organization “Streetcornerwork” were specialized in working with these “at risk” youths, who were also responsible for much of the harassment and bullying in the neighbourhood.

As I was supposed to write the local government’s policy for these youths, I thought it would be a good idea to meet some.
Joost said he would take me around their hanging-out places in the evening.
It was winter and that evening was very cold. I said to Joost, ”it is too cold for the youths”.
He said they would be there, and he was right.

There were three youths hanging out, doing nothing, in front of a shop door.
They knew and trusted Joost. As I was with him they were friendly towards me.
I said to them, “Look, you were born and bred here. Why do you still say you are Moroccan and not Dutch?”
One of the youths replied, “There is no pride in being Dutch”.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

A big, small story: the synagogue of Aalten

Aalten is a small municipality and village in the east of the Netherlands that extends to the German border.
It is a charming area with well-kept houses and plenty of walking and cycle paths. People still greet strangers there.

Not all Jews in the Netherlands lived in the big cities. There were small groups living throughout the country.
Jews first arrived in Aalten and the neighbouring village of Bredevoort in the 17th century.
In 1850 a small synagogue was built on the main street of Aalten.

In 1930, an estimated 70 Jews lived in the village. After Hitler’s rise to power, their number was augmented with German Jewish refugees.

During World War II, 51 of Aalten's 85 Jews were hidden by local non-Jews, and thereby survived the war.
The hidden Jews were supported by money collected from the congregation of the local Dutch Reformed church.
Religious books and ritual objects of the synagogue were hidden by the local population for the duration of the war. The building itself was ransacked.

The village had proportionally the highest number of people in hiding during World War II. At one point, Aalten hid 2,500 Aalten Jews, German Jews and non-Jews, amidst its population of 13,000.

After the war, most of the Jewish survivors left; too few remained to keep up the synagogue. For decades nothing was done with the building.

In the early 1980s there were discussions in the municipality about selling the building.
This led to an initiative by a small group of Aalteners to restore the synagogue and use it for Jewish services and as a memorial for their murdered Jewish neighbours.
The group established a foundation called, “Friends of the Aalten synagogue”.
And here begins my connection to the story. One of the initiators was the father of my son-in-law.

The initiative was successful. Contributions came from the congregation of the local Dutch Reformed church and the municipality and province.
In 1986, the synagogue was again consecrated and it started its new life as a house for both religious and cultural functions.

In December, 2000, during the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the synagogue, a plaque bearing the names of the Jews of Aalten who were murdered in the Holocaust was unveiled on the wall of the synagogue.

A new Torah scroll, written in Israel by Joseph Giat, was dedicated in 2005. As less than ten Jews now live in Aalten, the scroll is mainly used in the larger municipality of Enschede.