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March 1, 2015 / 10 Adar , 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘David Ben Gurion’

Israel is a Demographic Boom State; Stop the FearMongering

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

The Demographic Doom Bomb (DDB) threat is dropping once again. The DDB was first dropped on David Ben-Gurion, back before the rebirth of the Jewish state. Ben-Gurion was told then that Jews will become a minority in their own land in the not-too-distant future.

Today, everyone who will listen – and too many are listening – is told that soon Jews will be a minority in their own land, and that is true with a vengeance if the disputed territories are annexed.

But the people lobbing the DDB are relying on population numbers from the Palestinian Arab census bureau. That center makes several (intentional or otherwise) errors: it undercounts Arab deaths, it over counts Arab births, it double-counts Arabs, it fails to count altogether Arab emigration and it counts  Palestinian Arabs living abroad.

At the same time, that census bureau undercounts the rocketing Jewish birthrate and the ever-continuing and increasing rate of Aliyah. And upon what do the Israeli Jewish demographers rely for their predictions? Why, the Palestinian Arab numbers, of course.

In 1944, an Italian demographer, Roberto Bacchi, informed Ben-Gurion that the Jewish state would be a non-starter. Bacchi warned Ben-Gurion against the undertaking because the 600,000 Jews ready to pioneer was not a sufficient critical mass.

By the 1960′s, according to Bacchi, the Jews will be a minority in the state. In his best case scenario – about which Bacchi was not sanguine - by 2001 there would only be 2.3 million Jews in Israel.

Well, Bacchi was wrong then and so are his demographic theory heirs, Sergio DellaPergola of Hebrew University and Arnon Sofer, of Haifa University. Those two continue the doom and gloom prognostications, even though it’s consistently been proven wrong by reality. But the predictions have taken root and multiplied, more rapidly than have the non-Israeli  and Israeli Arabs in their predictions.

The reason this is relevant today, in 2015, is that the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics just released a new report. It contains projections based on 2014 data. These data, like Bacchi’s information, are wielded as kryptonite to subdue any thoughts about Jewish sovereignty in parts of the Middle East. Back in the ’40′s it was used to deter any thoughts of a Jewish state in the region at all. Now it is being used to forestall talk of annexing territory beyond the Apartheid Green Line, beyond which all foes and even some friends demand no Jew should live.

After reading one article in particular which continued the tradition of treating the truth as false and the flawed as truth, The Jewish Press sought some answers.

In a wide-ranging interview, former Ambassador and ardent iconoclast Yoram Ettinger of the American-Israel Demographic Research Group once again patiently shared why the “official” Israeli numbers are so skewed, and what that means for everyone’s understanding of the DDB. Ettinger was skewered in some articles by Bacchi’s disciples. But that’s okay with Ettinger, so long as he’s allowed to respond.

Bacchi’s disciples, according to Ettinger, get their numbers wrong primarily for the same reasons he did: they failed to comprehend the enduring lure of Aliyah, and they failed to understand fertility reality both for Jews who make Israel their home and the same for Israeli Arabs.

They all vastly underestimate the will of Jews to make Aliyah to a hostile, largely inhospitable region. But Ben-Gurion and his peers built it, and boy did Jews come. And they are still coming. They are coming in numbers Bacchi could never imagine, and they keep coming despite DellaPergola and Sofer’s refusal to acknowledge that reality.

The other reason their numbers are off the mark is that, despite their insistence to the contrary, the birthrate for Israelis is not consistent (as in downward spiraling) with the rest of the West, while the birthrate for Arab Israelis and those living more western-style lives is.

Countdown to Israeli Independence Day!

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

In one more week we’ll all be celebrating Israeli Independence Day!  Sixty-six 66 years since David Ben-Gurion took on the world and declared that enough was enough.  The Jewish State, aka the State of Israel was declared!

The odds were completely against us, and the world sat by watching, expecting to see a simple bloody rout. There was no way that a bunch of poor Jewish farmers, beggars and undernourished survivors of Hitler’s concentration camps could defeat the Arabs who had the de facto backing of Great Britain and other countries.

Juara Haganah Museum

Ben-Gurion didn’t even have a united Jewish army to fight with him. Actually, that was mostly his fault. He was so against the Etzel and Lechi during the latter years of the British Mandate that he even cooperated with the British by informing against them in a period known as the sezon, The Hunting Season.  He continued with his extreme hatred of those Jews who didn’t support him politically by tricking the Etzel, led by Menachem Begin, and attacking the Altalena which resulted in the death of Jewish patriots and the destruction of valuable weapons which had been brought to liberate Jerusalem from the Arabs.

Altalena on fire

It wasn’t only the Revisionists, Jabotinsky followers, members of Etzel and Lechi that Ben-Gurion tried to defeat, he also did everything he could to brainwash, deprogram religious North-African Jews from strictly observing Judaism. Children were sent to secular boarding schools to be “educated” and turned into Leftist, secular Israelis aka modern Jews.

Honestly, when I began this post, I didn’t plan on rehashing the terrible side of early Israeli history. But in order to understand today’s State of Israel we must remember the awful, disgraceful side, too.

When we wonder why the Israeli Left, and even Center, are so rabidly anti-Jewish Life in Judea and Samaria, and we wonder why Shabbak, Israel’s “secret police” can be so cruel to fellow Jews instead of concentrating on our real enemies, and we wonder how the Israeli Judicial System can judge Patriotic Jews so unfairly, we just have to think of David Ben-Gurion.

They are the spiritual, political, immoral heirs of David Ben-Gurion.

What’s the great irony here in Israel sixty-six years later? The descendants of Ben-Gurion and his followers are less interested in Israel than the descendants of those he tried so hard to destroy.

Considering all of the civil war, a battle for Jewish souls going on during the War for Israeli Independence and the early years of the state, it’s even more amazing that G-d allowed the state to survive and thrive.

We wouldn’t have a State of Israel if G-d hadn’t supported us. There’s no rational way to describe our victories in 1948, 1967 and 1973.

That’s why it is so important to thank G-d with Prayers including the Hallel on Israeli Independence Day!

Israeli Independence Day Prayers in the Mishkan Tabernacle Synagogue, Shiloh

Yes, we still have a long way to go, but we won’t succeed without the Help of the Almighty!

Visit Shiloh Musings.  / Batya Medad

Chanukah Guide for the Perplexed, 2013

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

1.  For the first time – and never again – the first day of Chanukah will be celebrated on Thanksgiving, the fourth Thursday in November, November 28, 2013.   Since the Jewish calendar is based on a 19 year cycle (when a “leap month” is added – seven times – to the shorter Jewish year) and Thanksgiving is part of a 7 year cycle, they coincide every 133 years.  However, Thanksgiving was formally adopted by President Lincoln in 1863, and therefore it could not coincide with Chanukah 133 years ago, in 1861. Moreover, due to the moving gap between the Jewish lunar calendar (with 29-30 day months) and the general Gregorian solar calendar, they will not coincide before the year 79,811….

2.  David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of the Jewish State, stated: “The struggle of the Maccabees was one of the most dramatic clashes of civilizations in human history, not merely a political-military struggle against foreign oppression…. The meager Jewish people did not assimilate, as did many peoples.  The Jewish people prevailed, won, sustained and enhanced their independence and unique civilization…. The Hasmoneans overcame one of the most magnificent spiritual, political and military challenges in Jewish history due to the spirit of the people, rather than the failed spirit of the establishment ….” (Uniqueness and Destiny, pp 20-22, Ben Gurion, IDF Publishing, 1953).

3. Chanukah is the only Jewish holiday that commemorates a Land of Israel national liberation struggle, unlike Passover (the Exodus from Egypt), Sukkot/Tabernacles and Shavuot/Pentecost (on the way from Egypt to the Land of Israel) and Purim (deliverance of Jews in the Persian Empire). Chanukah is the longest Jewish holiday (8 days) with the most intense element of light (8 consecutive nights of lighting candles).

4. The critical Chanukah developments occurred, mostly, in the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria: Mitzpah (also the Prophet Samuel’s burial site), Beth El (Judah’s first headquarters), Beth Horon (Judah’s victory over Seron), Hadashah (Judah’s victory over Nicanor), Beth Zur (Judah’s victory over Lysias), Ma’aleh Levona (Judah’s victory over Apolonius), Adora’yim (a Maccabean fortress), Elazar and Beit  Zachariya (Judah’s first defeat), Ba’al Hatzor (where Judah was defeated and killed) and the Judean Desert.  Unified Jerusalem was the Capital of the Maccabees. Thus, Chanukah is not a holiday of “occupied territories;” Chanukah highlights the moral-high-ground of Jews in their ancestral land.

5. Shimon the Maccabee – who succeeded his brothers, Judah and Yonatan - defied an ultimatum by the Syrian emperor, Antiochus (Book of Maccabees A, Chapter 15, verse 33), who demanded an end to the “occupation” of Jerusalem, Jaffa, Gaza, Gezer and Akron, Shimon declared: “We have not occupied a foreign land; we have not ruled a foreign land; we have liberated the land of our forefathers from foreign occupation.”

6.  The name Maccabee (מכבי or מקבי) is a derivative of the Hebrew word Makevet (מקבת), Power Hammer, which described Judah’s tenacious and decisive fighting capabilities. Or, it could be a derivative of the Hebrew verb Cabeh (כבה), to extinguish, which described the fate of Judah’s adversaries. Another source of the name suggests that Maccabee, מכבי, is the Hebrew acronym of “Who could resemble you among Gods, Jehovah” (מי כמוך באלים יי). However, the saga of the Maccabees was written, during ancient times, in Latin, which sometimes pronounces C like a TZ.  Hence, Maccabee could be the Latin spelling of the Hebrew word Matzbee, the commander.

7.  Chanukah’s historical context is narrated in the Books of the Maccabees and the Scroll of Antiochus. Alexander The Great – who held Judaism in high esteem and whose Egyptian heir, Ptolemy II, translated the Torah to Greek – died in 323 BCE following 12 glorious years. Consequently, the Greek Empire disintegrated into five provinces, and thirty years later into three kingdoms: Macedonia, Syria and Egypt. The Land of Israel was militarily contested by Syria and Egypt. In 198 BCE, Israel was conquered by the Syrian Antiochus III, who considered the Jewish State as an ally. In 175 BCE, a new king assumed power in Syria, Antiochus (IV) Epiphanies, who wished to replace Judaism with Hellenic values and assumed that Jews were allies of Egypt. In 169 BC, upon his return to Syria from a war against Egypt, he devastated Jerusalem, massacred the Jews, forbade the practice of Judaism (including the Sabbath, circumcision, etc.) and desecrated Jerusalem and the Temple. The 167 BCE-launched rebellion against the Syrian (Seleucid) kingdom featured the Hasmonean (Maccabee) family: Mattityahu, a priest from the town of Modi’in, and his five sons, Yochanan, Judah, Shimon, Yonatan and Elazar. The heroic (and tactically creative) battles conducted by the Maccabees, were consistent with the reputation of Jews as superb warriors, who were frequently hired as mercenaries by Egypt, Syria, Rome and other global and regional powers.  

8.  The Hasmonean dynasty:
*Mattityahu, son of Yochanan; the priest-led rebellion – 166/7 BCE
*Judah the Maccabee, son of Mattityahu – 166-161 BCE
*Yonatan the Maccabee, son of Mattityahu – 161-143 BCE
*Shimon the Maccabee, son of Mattityahu – 143-135 BCE
*Yochanan Hyrcanus son of Shimon – 135-104 BCE
*Mattityahu Antigonus – 40-37 BCE

9.  Chanukah (חנוכה in Hebrew) is education (חינוכ)-oriented. According to the first book of Maccabees, Judah instituted an eight day holiday on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev 165 BCE, in order to commemorate Jewish history, in general, and the inauguration (Chanukah, חנוכה, in Hebrew) and deliverance of the holy altar and the Temple, in particular.  A key feature of Chanukah is the education/mentoring of family members.  The Hebrew word, Chanukah, consists of two words, Chanu חנו in Hebrew (they rested/stationed) and Kah כה in Hebrew (which is equal to 25), referring to the Maccabees’ re-consecration of the Temple on the 25th day of the month of Kislev. Some have suggested that the timing of Christmas (December 25th) and the celebration of the New Year, 8 days later (January 1), have their origin in Chanukah, which always occurs in December.

10.  Chanukah is the holiday of liberty, which is advanced by combining The Book (spiritual) and the sword (physical), light, the commemoration of history/roots, optimism, dedication to values, faith in God, heroism on the battlefield and principle/morality-driven leadership. Chanukah celebrates the liberation of Jerusalem. The first day of Chanukah is celebrated when daylight is balanced with darkness, ushering in optimism for brighter future. Chanukah is celebrated in Kislev (כסלו), the Jewish month of miracles (e.g., Noah’s Rainbow appeared in Kislev) and the month of security/safety (the Hebrew word Kesel -כסל - means security). The first and last Hebrew letters of Kislev (כו – כסלו) equal 26 (in Jewish Gimatriya) – the total numerical value of the Hebrew spelling of Jehovah – יהוה. Moses completed the construction of the Holy Ark on the 25th day of Kislev, and it was also the date of the laying the foundation of the Second Temple by Nehemiah. The 25th (Hebrew) word in Genesis is Light (OR, אור), which is a Jewish metaphor for the Torah. The word which precedes “light” is יהי (“let there be” in Hebrew) – 25 in Gimatriya. The 25th stop during the Exodus was Hashmona (same root as Hasmonean in Hebrew). Chanukah commemorates one of the early Clashes of Civilizations: the victory of light (Maccabees) over darkness, the few over the many (miniscule light can penetrate darkness), liberty over slavery and remembrance over forgetfulness. The Hebrew spelling of darkness – חשכה – employs the same letters as forgetfulness – שכחה.

11.  The eight candles of Chanukah are lit one more per day, dedicated to the Torah, heroism, deliverance, leadership, camaraderie, roots, ingathering, family/community. The ninth candle (the Shamash, שמש, spelled in Hebrew like the word sun( which is lit every day to light the rest, is dedicated to Divine Providence and its miracles.
The candles should be lit outside the home, or at the window, in order to share the message of Chanukah with the world at-large.

12. The thirty-six Chanukah candles (excluding the ninth “divine” candle) represent the 36 hidden righteous people, whose virtue safeguards human-kind. There were 36 hours of divine light welcoming Adam during the creation, lasting until the end of the first Sabbath. Various forms of light – and candles – are mentioned 36 times in the Torah. There are 36 parts in the Talmud. Chanukah is celebrated during the Hebrew month of Kislev (כסלו), whose spelling consists of two Hebrew words: Throne (כס) and 36 (לו).

13.   The eight days of Chanukah, and the eight branches of the Chanukah Menorah (the ancient Temple Menorah consisted of seven branches, which commemorated the seven days of creation) represent divine capabilities and optimism. The shape of the digit 8 represents infinity: there is no end to divine capabilities as evidenced by the survival of the Jewish People against all odds. The root of the Hebrew word for 8 (Shmoneh, שמונה) is “oil” (Shemen, שמנ), which is also the root of “Hasmonean” (Hashmonayim, חשמונאים). The Aramaic name of the month of Kislev is Kislimo, “heavy.” The Hebrew spelling of “heavy” is identical to the spelling of “oil” – שמן.

14.  The US connection:
*The sculpture of Judah the Maccabee’s head is displayed at the West Point Military Academy, along with the sculptures of Joshua, David, Alexander the Great, Hector, Julius Caesar, King Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon – “the Nine Worthies.”

*“In God We Trust” is similar to the Maccabees’ battle cry, which adopted Moses’ battle cry against the builders of the Golden Calf: “Whoever trusts God; join me!”

*Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death,” and New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die,” followed the liberty and sacrifice-driven legacy of the Maccabees: swimming against the stream gets one closer to the source!

*“Rebellion against Tyrants is obedience to God” was proposed by John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin to be on the US Seal, reflecting the legacy of the Maccabees: A tiny minority of “rebels” – condemned by the “loyalists” – rising against an oppressive super-power. They demonstrated the victory of the few over the many, right over wrong, moral over immoral, truth over lies, faith over cynicism and opportunism.  Paul Revere’s nickname was the “modern day Maccabee.”

15. “Chanukah has a special significance in Montana these days. In Billings in 1993, vandals broke windows in homes that were displaying menorahs. In a response organized by local church leaders, more than 10,000 of the city’s residents and shopkeepers put make-shift menorahs in their own windows, to protect the city’s three dozen or so Jewish families. The vandalism stopped.” (New York Times, Dec. 4, 2009, Eric Stern, senior counselor to Gov. Brian Schweitzer).

In Hebrew: ‘Wipe Something Dry’

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013


Yesterday, we saw that the Hebrew word for dessertקִנּוּחַ- comes from the active-intensive פִּעֵל verb, לְקַנֵּחַ- one of the words for to wipe.

A more common word for to wipe is לְנַגֵּב, also a פִּעֵל verb. Unlikeלקנח, however, לנגב implies wiping to the point of dryness.

For example:

אָחֲרֵי שֶׁרוֹחֲצִים יָדַיִם, טוֹב לְנַגֵּב אֹתָם.
After washing hands, (its) good to wipe them dry.

Eating hummus is sometimes called לְנַגֵּב חוּמוּס, since eaters tend to wipe their plates dry with pitta.

You may have noticed that the root of לנגב is נ.ג.ב (n.g.b), the same as that of the name of the Israeli desert (not dessert, desert), the Negev – הַנֶּגֶב. It’s not clear exactly what the etymology of נגב-Negev is, but one theory is that the נגב is a place that has “been wiped dry” of precipitation.

A couple living in the נגב is looking to change that, fulfilling David Ben Gurion’s vision of making the desert bloom – with people, vegetation, and a thriving economy. Check out their video.

נ.ג.ב is also the root of the Hebrew word for towel, מַגֶּבֶת.

Visit Ktzat Ivrit.

Holocaust Museum Rebuffs FDR Backers

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Defenders of President Franklin Roosevelt’s response to the Holocaust were dealt a blow last week when a study by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum rejected a claim they have made regarding the U.S. failure to bomb Auschwitz.

Officials and supporters of the Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt Institute in Hyde Park, New York, have claimed for years that David Ben-Gurion opposed bombing Auschwitz, for fear of harming prisoners. Roosevelt supporters have made the claim to deflect criticism of FDR for the U.S. rejection of requests to bomb the death camp.

A newly-completed two-year study by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has concluded, however, that Ben-Gurion opposed bombing the camp only for several weeks when he believed it was a slave labor camp, and then reversed himself when he learned more about the true nature of Auschwitz.

Ben-Gurion’s Jewish Agency colleagues in Europe and the United States then repeatedly pressed Allied officials to bomb the camp.

“There is now broad agreement among Holocaust historians regarding the question of David Ben-Gurion’s position on bombing Auschwitz,” said Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, which had been urging the U.S. Holocaust Museum to review the subject in depth.

“Roosevelt’s apologists can no longer use Ben-Gurion to whitewash the Roosevelt administration’s refusal to bomb Auschwitz.”

The Wyman Insitute has issued a study of its own, “America’s Failure to Bomb Auschwitz: A New Consensus Among Historians,” which is available at www.WymanInstitute.org.

Among the Jewish leaders who called on the Allies to bomb Auschwitz in 1944 were World Zionist Organization president (and later president of Israel) Chaim Weizmann, senior Jewish Agency official (and later Israeli prime minister) Moshe Sharett, veteran Jewish leader Nahum Goldmann, and Palestine Labor Zionist leader (and future Israeli prime minister) Golda Meir.

Learning The Lessons From Shamir’s Mistakes

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

Yitzhak Shamir was arguably the most determined and stubborn Israeli prime minister since David Ben-Gurion. In the winter of 1991, during the first Gulf War, Shamir was faced with an existential dilemma that is very reminiscent of the current quandary that we face. True, Saddam Hussein did not have nuclear weapons because Menachem Begin bombed his reactor despite Shimon Peres’s objections. But the Scud missiles that Saddam fired at greater Tel Aviv could certainly have carried a chemical payload that would have caused mass casualties.

Today, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatens Israel and simultaneously awakens the ire of the Western nations, just as Saddam did 20 years ago. When Saddam captured Kuwait, the first President Bush put together an international coalition and attacked him.

What was the consideration that motivated the “intransigent” Shamir to stay out of the fighting? We can safely assume that Israel preferred to let others do its dirty work. If the entire world was fighting Iraq for its own reasons, what reason could there have been to give Saddam the “proof” that this was a Zionist war, allowing him to destabilize the already shaky coalition?

For his part, Saddam made no attempt to fight back. All that interested him was to present himself as a warrior against Israel by focusing his resources on firing Scud missiles at Tel Aviv. For the first time since Israel’s War of Independence, the nation’s civilian population found itself under direct attack. Israel’s citizens became addicted to their sealed rooms, plastic sheets covering their windows, gas masks, and the voice of the IDF spokesman and his “secret weapon” to treat trauma – a glass of water.

Twenty years later, we can say that Shamir made a strategically deplorable decision, with repercussions more severe than the damage done by the Yom Kippur War. The coalition forces did not prevent any Scud missiles from being fired at Israel. In other words, nobody did the dirty work for us. What happened was that Israel’s enemies were no longer afraid to attack its civilian population. Israel’s deterrence factor took a severe blow.

Whoever expected some sort of benefit in exchange for our self-restraint instead got the opposite. Israel did not understand that when a country deposits is existential battles in the hands of others its existence becomes something for which it must pay. In no time, Shamir found himself under heavy U.S. pressure. He was dragged to Madrid, forced to indirectly recognize the PLO, and made to plant the seeds that eventually sprouted into the Oslo Accords. This has led to the thousands of soldiers and citizens who have paid with their lives for those accords.

Shamir also paid a personal price for his mistake. The U.S. interfered with the elections in Israel and delayed loan guarantees that Shamir had requested to help absorb the masses of Soviet Jews immigrating to Israel. Yitzhak Rabin won the premiership. Immediately after his victory, the U.S. went forward with the loan guarantees.

And now to our current situation: Ahmadinejad, like Saddam, is preparing to destroy Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu, like Shamir, is hoping that the world will, for its own reasons, do the dirty work for us and fight our existential war.

The economic and political sanctions against Iran have not worked, and it looks like we are nearing the moment of truth. Here’s the question: is it better if Israel attacks Iran, or if the West does so? From Shamir’s mistake we can conclude that greater Tel Aviv will be on the receiving end of the entire payload that Iran can muster. The second lesson we learn from Shamir is that the Western coalition will not be overly concerned with the threat hanging over Israel’s head. As we all remember, not one Scud missile was destroyed before it was launched.

If Israel does not attack Iran and leaves the work for others, our position will be further weakened. First, because a passive Israel will have no power of deterrence against Iran; second, because it is technically more difficult to defend oneself from a passive stance.

The most serious lesson that we must learn from Shamir, however, is that the question mark hovering today over Israel’s right to exist will turn into a large exclamation point. The West will extort Israel to pay dearly for an attack that it could have carried out more effectively by itself.

The last option, also highly possible, is that nobody will attack – neither Israel nor the West. This is actually the worst scenario of all, because a gun that appears in the first act will always shoot by the third act. Nuclear weapons in the hands of the ayatollahs will be activated in the second act, and it doesn’t look like plastic sheets and water will help this time.

Hidden In Plain Sight: The (Jewish) Hague

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Beneath Baruch Spinoza’s smiling bust on his tombstone on the grounds of the Nieuwe Kerk in the Hague is an inscription of his famous motto, “caute” (written cavte on the stone, see image one), or “cautiously” in Latin. Between that admonition and the dates of his life – 1632 to 1677, cut short by an illness whose identity is hotly debated – is the Hebrew word “amcha” or “amach”, Hebrew for “your people” or “your nation.”


The word, which appears on a stone which was provided by David Ben Gurion, a groupie, is ambiguous, to say the least. Is the word’s subject God – meaning, “[Spinoza is one of] Your nation” – in which case the word evokes the declaration of 1 Chronicles 17: 21, “And who is like Your nation (k’amcha) Israel, a single nation in the land?”



Spinoza’s Tombstone

All photos courtesy of the author



Or is Spinoza the subject? Perhaps the church and its community were the true people of the philosopher excommunicated by the rabbis for heresy. If that were the intention, it would be doubly tragic, as Spinoza’s bones were discarded in the church’s yard after his friends and family stopped paying rent for his tomb. The inscription “amcha” defiantly and ironically marks the tomb commemorating a man who had no people and who, even in death, could not seem to rest in peace.


My first of several walks through the downtown area of The Hague occurred somewhat in a jet-lagged daze. Still, that alone does not explain the many Jewish monuments and buildings I walked right past without appreciating their significance. Even after he had shown me hidden Stars of David, former synagogues and a matzoh factory, it caught me completely off guard when Jewish tour guide Remco Dorr led me to Spinoza’s grave on the grounds of the church right across the street from my hotel.


Whether he was discussing the temporary posts and chains rabbis set up beside canal drawbridges to allow residents to carry outside the ritual boundary (t’chum) on the Sabbath or the cultural and economic gulfs between Sephardic (Portuguese) and Ashkenazi Jews in the 17th century, one cannot say too much about Dorr’s breadth of knowledge except that it was rivaled only by his enthusiasm for his city’s history.


From its start, Dorr’s two-hour tour reflected the Jewish crisis in the city which is the seat of the Dutch government. Before World War II, 17,000 Jews lived in The Hague. The Jewish population of The Hague today is about 2,000. The former shtetl is now Chinatown, and walking along Wagenstraat, strung with hanging red lanterns, one reaches a mini supermarket called U-Shop with a fa?ade of two ram’s heads and two lambs still intact, betraying the storefront’s prior identity as a Jewish butcher’s shop (image two).






The next stop on Wagenstraat was a 19th century synagogue and mikveh (used from 1844 to 1974), now a mosque (since 1979). According to Dorr, the only aspect of the synagogue (image three) that remains is balcony that was the women’s section. An inscription on a cornerstone close to the ground, far beneath the minarets, still attests (in Hebrew and Dutch) to the building’s origins: “The first stone of the construction of the sanctuary of God, this Ashkenazi congregation Yeshurun , the holy congregation of The Hague, may God defend it, which was placed on Tuesday, the 25th of Nissan, 5603 [1843].”


Walking from the synagogue-turned-mosque to Spinoza’s former attic apartment (17th century rent, 50 guilders per year), Dorr explained that Jewish scavenger hunting in The Hague is different from say Germany.


Whereas stone doorframes in Germany still divulge the locations of mezuzahs past, Dutch frames were made of wood, which has long been replaced. There are some inscriptions – Dorr noted one, “H. G. Klausmeyer, 1922″ in particular – that remain, but many landmarks, like the Jewish orphanage on the Paviljoensgracht, which was a holding place for Jews before they were deported during the Second World War, were destroyed and rebuilt.


A monument on the Rabbijn Maarsenplein square (named for the former chief rabbi of The Hague, Isaac Maarsen, and just steps from Spinoza’s grave at the first Protestant church in The Hague) is particularly poignant.


The square is the grounds of an old playground at a Jewish school where 1,700 children were rounded up before being deported to concentration camps. The sculpture, created by Sara Benhamou and Eric de Vries, consists of six empty chairs (inscribed with the names and ages of martyred children) arranged in a manner that conveys ladders leading upward toward the heavens. The chairs are surrounded by Hebrew and Dutch texts identifying the subject of the memorial. According to Dorr, there used to be seven chairs (an understandable number for a Jewish memorial), but one was stolen.



Storefront, previously Jewish butcher



The remainder of our tour addressed laws preventing Jews from being buried in the city limits, a former Jewish department store De Bijenkorf (which Dorr’s mother remembers being barred from as a Jew during World War II) and a former synagogue turned into a department store, which still has its foundation stone intact, and where rabbis insisted that no bathroom be placed on the site of the former ark. It also included a Holocaust memorial (image four), which bears the biblical quotation, “Remember what Amalek did to you Don’t forget,” and which Dorr said he was displeased to see so haphazardly placed so close to a restaurant.


In some senses, one would have hoped that there would be more spotlights and attention showered on the Jewish memorials and former synagogues in The Hague. Perhaps if they were more conspicuous, I wouldn’t have walked right past them the first and second and third times. But somewhere along the way, dazzled by Dorr’s engrossing woven narratives, it struck me that the hunt for The Jewish Hague required no reconfiguring or modification.



Holocaust Memorial



The Stars of David and former synagogues need not hit every pedestrian over the head. It is enough that they can be teased out and revived in the hands of someone like Dorr (though one fears he is irreplaceable and hard to imitate). Maybe there is no better metaphor for the Jewish life that was and is (albeit downsized significantly) in The Hague than a series of inscriptions and works of art hidden in plain sight.


“We have no idea where he is,” Dorr said solemnly, looking at Spinoza’s tomb stone in that church backyard. “He’s scattered around the church somewhere.” Can one imagine much more pitiful than that?


              Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.


This article is the second in a series on Jewish Amsterdam and The Hague, which is based on a trip sponsored by the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/hidden-in-plain-sight-the-jewish-hague/2010/12/22/

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