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A Big Boulder, Chief Rabbi Berlinger and the Beginning of Shabbat. Diary of the Chief Rabbi, May 15, 2022.

Kopenhagen My diary is written in the air today. Sounds very spiritual, but I just mean it literally. I got up at 4 a.m., went to Schiphol Airport and at 8:40 a.m. I was at Copenhagen Airport. I was supposed to be picked up by the local rabbi, but that failed because the centre was hermetically sealed because of a marathon. And so, as there were no taxis either, I took the Metro. That took some getting used to, because for 12 years, if I remember correctly, I have not used public transport at the request of the police. But since the Dutch police watch over my safety in the Netherlands, but the Netherlands is not Denmark, I have not sinned officially! What exactly I had to do in the three hours I was there is not so interesting for you to hear, but unexpectedly I experienced something emotional. The person I had to speak to gave me a tiny tour of Jewish Copenhagen. And so I was standing on Israel's' Plads (Israel Square) next to a large boulder. Of course I have a thing for boulders, as Amersfoort is nicknamed the Boulder City, but that was not what touched me. During the war, in October 1943, Denmark organised the transfer of its Jewish inhabitants on fishing boats to Sweden, to Malmö to be precise. In gratitude for this rescue, Israel donated this large boulder, inscribed in both Danish and Hebrew, to Copenhagen. But what touched me emotionally was that at that time my predecessor and teacher Chief Rabbi Berlinger was the rabbi of Malmö and he was one of the organisers of this rescue operation. My visit to Copenhagen had nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with general Jewish interest, but with helping a fellow Jew, a fellow human being, who was in trouble.

And while I was standing there by that boulder, I received a phone call from Belgium with the request to help someone who is in trouble in the Netherlands. When I arrive, I will call the Belgian colleague who asked for my help. And tomorrow, for you dear reader today, I have a number of pastoral visits scheduled in my diary. Of course there is no honour in this kind of so-called pastoral assistance, but, in my opinion, this is the most important task of a Rabbi of a Jewish Congregation, at least this should be the most important task. The assistance should be based on the Jewish Halagian and philosophical way of thinking. If not, the Rabbi is a social worker in another salary scale. But if the rabbi is strong on the Jewish pastoral level, then this is appreciated, but also not. In my opinion, administrators judge too much on the visibility of the rabbi for the general public. Of course, representation is of great importance and contacts with the local government are essential, but not at the expense of spiritual assistance and strengthening of the Jewish identity through courses for adults and Jewish lessons for youth.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zl, one of the greatest Halachic authorities of our time, was of course on the books day and night. Halagic questions were put to him from all over the world. You cannot expect pastoral work from such a leader. You can compare him with a great professor at a top university. He is the theoretician who trains the specialists who have to do the field work.

But still: an elderly lady called at the house of Reb Moshe Feinstein on a Friday afternoon. The secretary of Reb Moshe answered the phone and told the lady that Reb Moshe was very busy and could not be disturbed, but, said the secretary, maybe I can help you. The woman then asked what time Shabbat started this week. She got the answer but also some advice. Dear lady, you don't really need to call Reb Moshe for this kind of question because there are calendars and Lukot that clearly state what time Shabbat begins and ends. The woman reacted in surprise: "I have called Reb Moshe every Friday afternoon for more than 25 years with the same question. He has never pointed out calendars to me, but has always simply told me what time the Shabbat candles must be lit.

During the corona period and afterwards, Chief Rabbi Jacobs keeps a diary for the Jewish Cultural Quarterly. NIW publishes these special pieces on www.niw.nl