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Presentation: Purpose or Means? Diary of the Chief Rabbi 12 January 2022

Yesterday my diary was filled with a picture all morning! Yes, you read it correctly: with a photo. In Visie, the EO's programme magazine, an article was published about six people of different ages: 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 and 100. I hope they will (still) put me in the 50 category. A few weeks ago I had the interview and yesterday the photo. The photographer had come at 10:30 and because it, according to her, went smoothly, we were ready at 12:15. One hour and three quarters for one photo! The interview itself took considerably less time. Why did I participate in this, you may wonder. I also asked myself: what purpose do I serve by doing this? But that is how our society works. Fame is a means to an end. But at the same time, such a way of thinking can also turn out to be catastrophically wrong, because participating in something wrong can harm me, but even worse the entire Jewish community. I am by nature sometimes dosed with uncertainty, I like to inquire from others whether it is wise to put my signature to something, even if many others have already done so, and I then come to a conclusion after weighing it up. But regardless of whether I am going to cooperate in something or not: fame must never degenerate into the goal. Fame, contacts and networks are always only a means. The photographer wanted me to have something red in my clothes. Not Jewish, but red! It reminded me of years ago when, on the occasion of a lustrum, the Sinai Centre was to publish a booklet decorated with Stars of David. The designer had chosen the colour yellow for the Stars of David. But because the yellow Star of David conjures up associations that are not exactly festive, and certainly not in an environment almost exclusively of war survivors, the booklet disappeared into the shredder. The designer had meant nothing wrong with it, but it really was the wrong colour. In the same way, a photograph, of me in this case, is important. You are seen and make an impression. And that impression, being seen, can perhaps later be used to help somewhere. But beware: a wrong impression is easily made. Back to the colour red. Red is just as unacceptable to my Blouma as the yellow of the Star of David is to me. My father-in-law hated red. He had barely survived communism and therefore his children were never allowed to wear anything red in their clothes. And so the photographer and my wife decided what suit I would or would not wear for the photo and how an acceptable shade of red could still go with it. It became the tie that apparently had/has something red in it. Because I am not very good with colours (I have a serious colour disorder!) my wife always decides what I can and cannot wear. It is important for a rabbi to look neat and well-groomed. He should be a walking billboard for the entire Jewish community. Is this my own wisdom? No, it is written already for centuries in the Shulchan Aroeg, the Jewish law book. Because, and this is the reason, if a rabbi or another Jew has a stain on his clothes or even worse, a stain in his behaviour, it can have repercussions on the whole community. So we are responsible for each other.


After the photo morning, I went to collect my new paper and business cards from the printer. That also needs to look neat: presentation is important, your figurative business card.


Meanwhile, I have started preparing for my trip to Kiev to commemorate the murder of more than 100,000 Jews in Babi Yar. But unfortunately Babi Yar is not as unique as is often thought. Ukraine has hundreds of mass graves, hundreds of Babi Yar, many of them still unknown. In Mariupol, I stood at the foot of a mass grave that is 10 metres wide and 11.6 kilometres long and spoke to an old woman who remembered the massacre. As a little girl, she lived close to the place of death. Why do I go to the commemoration? To say kaddish, to warn and hopefully to warn the eight-year-old boy who thought he had to yell Free Palestine at me, if his parents permit.


And in the meantime, we as a Jewish community must ensure that we look good, look good, remain respectful, do not turn in on ourselves and contribute to the well-being of society at large. Whether this could have prevented Babi Yar, I doubt. If someone is ill, he must go to the doctor. He has to follow the prescribed diet. But whether the illness disappears with this is ultimately determined upstairs and how this is decided is often incomprehensible to us simple people.


During the coronation period Chief Rabbi Jacobs kept a diary for the Jewish Cultural Quarter. NIW publishes these special pieces on its website