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A historic Yad Vashem ceremony. Diary of the Chief Rabbi 21 September 2022

Yad Vashem kardinaal de Jong foto Rmon Mangold Sunday and Monday were listless. Sunday alone we drove 556 km. First the opening of the Etty Hillesum house in Middelburg and then a bar mitzvah in Brussels. And Monday was entirely devoted to His Eminence Johannes Cardinal de Jong, who was posthumously awarded the Yad Vashem by Israel's ambassador at the Paushuize in Utrecht.


Etty Hillesum's birthplace has turned into an exceptionally good and effective educational project. Important, especially in these days of rising anti-Semitism. Although it was a fairly festive affair with justifiably happy faces, I, I feel, threw a bit of a spanner in the works. It is good that her thought has been given a proper and central place and thus a valuable educational project, but: she was murdered at a young age and because of that murder, she is now, rightly, receiving the necessary important and instructive attention. It would have been better... From Middelburg, we travelled to Brussels after first saying afternoon prayers in the Middelburg shul and having a cup of soup. We, were not Blouma and my person this time. Blouma is recovering from a cold and Leo, my rabbinical archaeologist, was my driver. Not quite, by the way, because at the bar mitzvah he had advised me not to drink alcohol and so he himself did. And so I was the driver on the way back. That was unfortunate, because I had actually wanted to prepare the dawning for Rosh Hashanah, but that was cancelled. By the way, we couldn't just enter Brussels; we had to wait until 19:00 because it was a car-free Sunday. But after half an hour of driving around, as parking or stopping was forbidden, we were allowed in. It was the bar-mitzvah of the son of the director of the RCE (Rabbinical Centre of Europe) and of the EJA (European Jewish Association). A bar-mitzvah you could say "you do" to. Purpose: to approach the numerous EU ambassadors who are regularly approached with requests for help, for once not for help but to give something to them. At length, I spoke with the former ambassador of Ukraine who is now the ambassador to the EU. Naturally, we discussed the situation. He says he is convinced that Ukraine will eventually prevail. Many young EU rabbis for whom I get to serve as a senior rabbi were present, out of respect for the efforts of the director, Menachem Margolin. It was a bar mitzvah of a calibre I had never experienced before.


Of a totally different order on Monday was the symposium and presentation of the Yad Vashem. It was instructive and I think there too I touched on something in my speech that was a bit off, similar to Middelburg. Namely, I tried to point out that Cardinal de Jong himself does not need this highest award from the State of Israel. He will be rewarded by the Eternal in life after this earthly existence. No, we need to reflect on how 90 per cent of the Dutch people did not move, but just let it happen and that it was only a few who had the courage to take action, like the Cardinal. But, I keep stressing this over and over again, there were also others who had the courage to revolt but were betrayed before they could even do anything and thus cannot receive Yad Vashem because they had not performed a heroic act. But the vast majority did not stir, saw and let it happen. And that is exactly what we must avoid in the future, herd behaviour. But whether we can learn this from history I doubt because, with my life experience, I now know that the only law history knows is: no one ever learns from history.

The message got across, that much was clear. But actually to the wrong people, because everyone present was aware even before the impressive ceremony that herd behaviour is life-threatening. Posthumous thanks to go-getter/initiator Dr Hans Themans zl. who managed to arrange this important historical Yad Vashem award. In doing so, he not only managed to concretise the thanks owed to Cardinal de Jong and his bishops, but to the general public, through the aura of the impressive ceremony, he managed to draw attention to the dangers of herd behaviour and also to the concern about the ineradicable anti-Semitism that is once again alive and well today under the pseudonym anti-Zionism.


Meanwhile, a panic phone call from someone who wants to immigrate to Israel, but is literally almost going crazy with the multitude of papers, paperwork and documents required and sometimes beyond logic. Too bad, because Israel is a great country! The country excels in many areas, but also in terms of often less logical rules.

Further, received an epistle from someone who grew out of an adulterous situation of his mother and therefore believes he has been disadvantaged all his life. May be, may not be. But regardless of whether or not, the person is thus massively distressed and therefore sends me an epistle that in itself requires a reading time of half an hour given the multitude of ambiguities I can already see superficially reading. I am not going to answer this email, this is where I draw the line. Why am I being singled out to help this person? But not replying is not neat, so I have decided to do reply and advise him to go to his local pastor if he is non-Jewish and to his local rabbi if he would be. And now just hope that he does not happen to be Jewish and that his local rabbi finds it too complicated and requests me to take over for a while!


During corona time, Chief Rabbi Jacobs began his diary at the request of the

Jewish Cultural Quarterly.

NIW now publishes these special pieces on its website.

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