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Dutch Christians’ Mega-Menorah Helps Jews Come Out of their Shell

Nearly 70 years after the Holocaust, some European Jew still are afraid to be confident enough to be Jewish in public. Christina Zionists are trying to help them, buy aliyah to Israel would be a lot easier.
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The Christians for Israel menorah being mounted in Nijkerk near Amsterdam.

The Christians for Israel menorah being mounted in Nijkerk near Amsterdam.
Photo Credit: Sara van Oordt, Christians for Israel

Amsterdam’s Chabad Rabbi Binyamin Jacobs lit the candles on the first night Hanukkah Wednesday on a 36-foot menorah with a six-ton base that was made with donations by Christian Zionists.

Klaas Zijlstr designed and built the menorah, in the shape of a Star of David, in his metal workshop in the northern tip of the Netherlands. Possibly the largest in all of Europe, the handiwork of a Protestant metal contractor is meant to be a sign of solidarity by Christian Zionists with the Jewish people.

“It’s exactly like the rabbi wanted,” Zijlstra said.

Rabbi Jacobs helped Zijlstra and a group called Christians for Israel design the nine-branch candelabrum so it could be used for the eight-day holiday, which began Wednesday night and which was lit in front of hundreds of Christians and Jews during a public ceremony in Nijkerk, not far from Amsterdam.

Though commonplace in the United States and even in Russia, public Hanukkah events are a recent and revolutionary development in the Netherlands. Here they signify the growing self-confidence and openness of a Jewish community whose near annihilation in the Holocaust left a deeply entrenched tendency to keep a low profile.

“Twenty years ago, this wouldn’t‎‎ have been possible,” said Arjen Lont, the Christian Zionist businessman who donated $40,000 to build and transport the menorah. “It requires a lot of openness.”

Lont says the purpose of the giant menorah, which can be used either with electric bulbs or oil lamps, is to send a message.

“After unspeakable suffering, the horrors of the Holocaust and most recently the attacks on Israel, Jews may feel they are alone,” Lont told JTA. “This is our way of saying you are not alone; we are behind you.”

The first public Hanukkah lighting ceremony in the country was organized in 1989 in Buitenveldert, near Amsterdam, by the wife of a Chabad rabbi, according to Bart Wallet, a historian of Dutch Jewry at the University of Amsterdam.

Today, such events are held annually in 19 municipalities, from the northern city of Leeuwarden, near Berlikum, to the southern border city of Maastricht, according to Rabbi Jacobs.

He said that public menorah lightings in the country signify the Jewish community’s confidence in asserting its place in Dutch society.

“Nowadays it’s also saying we are here; we are also a part of the fabric of religious communities and society,” he explained.

Dutch Jewish reticence toward public displays of faith dates back at least to the 19th century, according to Wallet, when Dutch rabbis decreed that no Jewish rituals should be held in the public domain. At the time, Dutch Jews were keen on integrating into a democratic society as equal citizens, and they considered it counterproductive to showcase religious customs that set them apart from their compatriots.

The tendency was greatly reinforced after the Holocaust, when three-quarters of Holland’s population of 140,000 Jews perished — a higher percentage than anywhere else in occupied Western Europe. Today, about 40,000 Jews live in the Netherlands.

Wallet says things began to change in the 1970s, when Dutch Jews began displaying greater activism around anti-Semitism and Israel.

Even today, however, many Dutch Jews retain a sense of reticence when it comes to public displays of religion.

“There’s nothing wrong with these Hanukkah events, but to me they don’t seem familiar,” said Jaap Hartog, chairman of the umbrella group of Dutch Jewry, called the Dutch Israelite Religious Community, or NIK. “To me, Hanukkah is more a holiday that you celebrate at home with your family. The public candle lightings are more of an American thing.

“On a personal level, I’m not too keen on participating.”

Initially, Chabad rabbis organized candle lighting ceremonies as part of their efforts to reach lapsed Jews, but today the menorah lightings are not organized exclusively by Chabad. Nathan Bouscher, a Jewish activist who is not himself religious, has co-organized candle lightings at the Dam, Amsterdam’s best-known square.

“It’s a way to build bridges between Jews and the non-Jewish environment, but also within the community and between Dutch-born Jews and the thousands of Israelis who live here and the tourists from Israel,” Bouscher said.

Back at Zijlstra’s metal workshop, his menorah is attracting attention from neighbors. During the test run last week, a few of them stopped by to admire his handiwork and congratulate him.

One elderly man, Henk van Jaarsveld, looked up at the menorah with tears in his eyes. A self-described Messianic Jew, he showed off his Hebrew skills by reading the holiday greeting in Dutch and Hebrew that Christians for Israel had attached to the menorah’s base.

Next year, Christians for Israel says it wants to place the menorah in front of the European Parliament in Brussels to protest legislative proposals that seek to restrict Jewish rights such as circumcising male infants.

“On Hanukkah, the Jewish people remember their rebellion against the Greeks because the Greeks limited the Jews’ freedom of worship,” said Roger van Oordt, director of Christians for Israel’s Dutch branch. “We want to place this menorah there as a warning against repeating that history.”

This article was written for JTA by Cnaan Liphshiz.

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7 Responses to “Dutch Christians’ Mega-Menorah Helps Jews Come Out of their Shell”

  1. @janejord

    If the Jews come out of their shell, does that mean there’s six more weeks of Christmas?

  2. Lynne Marton says:

    Makes me sad that even this long after the Holocaust, there are still Jews that are afraid to be Jewish outside of their homes. :(

  3. It gladdens the heart to read how creative most hidden Jews wearing the garb of Christianity around the world are getting in terms of coming out of their shells , like this Menorah in Amsterdam . On the Horn of Africa ( Ethiopia) , replicas of Ark of the Covenant is a frequent sight in Jewish churches . Among West African Christian Jews especially Eastern Nigeria , you see images of Magen David on most Church buildings . To learn more about Jews of Nigeria , visit any of the following websites to get a copy of the new book , Cow Without :

    1. http://www.dorrancebookstore.com/cowwitabo1.html

    2.http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/1434915395/ref=aw_d_img_back_books

    3 . books.google.com/books?id=CBK7REawuoEC&pg=PA254&dq=Odinala&hl=en&sa=X&ei=R6kHUtW-A8SyyAHao4C4AQ&ved=0CCAQ6AEwAA

    4.www.tower.com
    5. www. barnessndnoble.com
    6. http://www.bookrenter.com
    7. http://www.junglee.com
    8. Et cetra

  4. Never trust Christians. It’s never straight up.

  5. Maybe today ; early Christians could be trusted . History teaches that conversion to Christianity under Roman Empire was by force . Resistance to this led to the Masada suicides . Most Jews from Spain to various places in the world became reluctant Catholic and Protestant converts but still held on to some of the Zionist symbols ( shofars, menorahs,shields of david, arks of covenant , et cetra ) and other cultural practices like circumcision . So, the Judeo-Christians of south eastern Nigeria can be trusted to a large extent. To them , Judaism is considered their culture while Christianity remains their religion . This explains why most of their Churches bear the shield of David to this day . Those coming out of their shells are now openly returning to and embracing Orthodox Judaism . And they are continuously receiving mentoring from visiting Rabbis like Howard Gorin and Funye Kapers from the U. S .

  6. The problem with trusting Christians is that many who claim to be Christians are pseudo Christians. If you have a Jewish mother you are Jewish but having Christian parents does not make anyone a Christian, nor does going to church. You have to be born again, with a new heart and no life of your own. You have to belong totally to God. Much is given but much is required. Anyone can claim to be a Christian but it means nothing, just as a gentile can wear a kippa and say shalom but that won't them Jewish.

    Also, it should be remembered that when we read the Bible we find that the children of Israel were wrong more often than they were right. God was always rebuking them for their sin but that doesn't mean that you can never trust Jews. If you read the NT you find those who followed Christ also got things wrong and were corrected often. Don't look for perfection in man because you won't find it. The perfection we seek is found only in God and his mercy endures forever.

  7. “My opinion of Christian Zionists? They’re scum. But don’t tell them that. We need all the useful idiots we can get right now.”
    — Benyamin Netanyahu, at the time a former Israel prime minister

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