Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

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March 4, 2013

THE HAGUE (JTA) — An ancient synagogue in Amsterdam that was sold after World War II was returned to the Dutch Jewish community.

The city of Amsterdam signed over the Uilenburger Synagogue in the eastern part of the city center to a registered association set up by the Jewish community, according to a report last week in the Dutch Jewish weekly Nieuw Israelietisch Weekblad.

The institutions of Holland’s decimated post-Holocaust Jewish community sold the synagogue, which opened in 1766, to the city in 1954 due to lack of use. The building stood vacant for many years before it was rented out as a storage place, NIW reported.

The Uilenburger Shul Foundation, which officially owns the building, has a budget of up to $2.5 million for renovations. Plans call for a simple but large rectangular structure with a tall gable and three large windows in its facade.

Approximately 75 percent of the 140,000 Jews who lived in the Netherlands in 1941 died in the Holocaust.

Maurits Jan Vink, the chairman of the Uilenburger Shul Foundation, told NIW that he was very happy to see “such a pretty building returning after such a long time to function as a Jewish institution.”

Read original article here.

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Amsterdamsel Tours leads WWII and Jewish Amsterdam tours, exploring the historic Jewish quarter, its monuments, and old Jewish orphanages and schools. 

Dutch capital earns international notice for efforts to rebuild a presence almost entirely wiped out during the Holocaust

Built in the 17th century by refugees from the Inquisition, Amsterdam's Portuguese Synagogue withstood the Nazi occupation to remain a center of Jewish life. (Matt Lebovic)

Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander officiated at the Jewish Cultural Quarter’s designation ceremony in October. Wearing a blue yarmulke, the prince unveiled artwork titled “The Fragmented Talit,” by Israeli-Dutch artist Joseph Semah.

Speaking in the restored Portuguese Synagogue, the prince acknowledged the Quarter’s history and major sites, including Europe’s oldest Jewish library and theHollandsche Schouwburg, or Dutch Theater, used by the Nazis as a detention center for captured Jews.

For decades, a trickle of tourists made its way to Amsterdam’s former Jodenhoek, or Jewish Corner, adjacent to the canal-filled city’s historic center. Most visitors toured the stately Portuguese Synagogue or Jewish Historical Museum, close to where many of Amsterdam’s 80,000 Jews lived on the eve of World War II.

Though home to most of the decimated community’s institutions and residences, the Quarter plays second fiddle to Amsterdam’s most visited “Jewish” site – the Anne Frank House across town, which draws more than a million tourists annually.

The Portuguese Synagogue complex, which includes the so-called winter synagogue, received the Europa Nostra prize last year from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. (Matt Lebovic)

An hour’s walk from Anne Frank’s “Secret Annex,” the Jewish Quarter once boasted a patchwork of Jews from northern Africa and throughout Europe. The bustling Jewish flea market filled a square until Nazis converted it as a gathering place for roundup victims in 1941. A defiant-looking “Dockworker” statue commemorates the firstmajor Dutch strike following these deportations.

With its blend of red-brick 17th century synagogues and sites connected to the Holocaust, the Quarter speaks to both centuries of Jewish life upended and the desire of today’s Jewish community to achieve a sense of continuity. The synagogues and theater have each been renovated in recent years, with the Portuguese Synagogue winning the European Union’s Europa Nostra prize for conservation work in 2012.

Built in 1675 by Jews who fled the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, the Portuguese Synagogue – or “Esnoga” in Ladino – was modeled after the Jerusalem Temple. The complex includes a courtyard, winter synagogue, archives, mortuary, and the famous Etz Hayim library.

The sanctuary’s high rectangular interior retains original wooden benches and – in the Dutch tradition – a floor covered with fine sand to absorb moisture from shoes and soften their noise. Here, in 1656, from the synagogue’s east-facing holy ark, Amsterdam rabbis excommunicated freethinker Baruch Spinoza for “abominable heresies” at the age of 23.

A less eventful visit to the Portuguese Synagogue was recently made by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who told Jewish leaders that European Jews represent the best of “cultural integration.”

The imposing Hollandsche Schouwburg, or Dutch Theater, served as a gathering point during the Nazi roundup of Amsterdam's Jews. (Matt Lebovic)

“[The Jewish Cultural Quarter] is part of the work of keeping alive this great tradition, the Jewish tradition, which is a part of our European Union,” Barroso said during a Jan. 8 visit. He added that Jews around the world were “at the front line of the fight against extremism.”

Several of Amsterdam’s 15,000 Jews have risen to the top of Dutch politics in recent years.

Former Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen’s paternal grandparents were murdered in the Holocaust. Cohen led the city for almost a decade, and was runner-up for World Mayor in 2006. Half-Jewish politician Lodewijk Asscher is currently the Netherlands’ deputy prime minister, with a vision to make Holland “fairer and stronger.”

Both Cohen and Asscher have advocated “cleaning up” Amsterdam’s notorious Red Light District, home to legalized prostitution and just a wooden shoe’s throw from the Jewish Cultural Quarter. Halfway between the brothels and the Quarter’s center, Rembrandt van Rijn lived and worked in a mansion close to the Jews he occasionally painted.

The Quarter’s homes were demolished during 1945’s “Hunger Winter,” when abandoned Jewish buildings were razed for firewood to sustain a starving and frozen city. More recent years have seen the almost total redevelopment of the area, with office buildings and transportation infrastructure making it one of Amsterdam’s least charming districts.

More than 275,000 tourists visited the square-kilometer-sized Jewish Quarter last year, according to the Jewish Historical Museum, celebrating its 80th anniversary. As the first stop for many Quarter visitors, the museum houses more than 50,000 objects in galleries created within adjacent synagogues.

Other Jewish artifacts are literally tucked away in corners throughout the neighborhood, including the Portuguese Synagogue’s underground “Treasure Rooms,” which feature 800 rare ceremonial objects. Near the Artis Royal Zoo, where some Jews hid among the animals, a memorial to Auschwitz deportees fills the corner of a dog park.

Traditional Dutch and Jewish items remain on sale at Amsterdam's former Jewish flea market. (Matt Lebovic)

Though the Netherlands deported a larger share of Jews to Nazi death camps than any other Western European country, no official Dutch Holocaust museum or memorial exists. Since 1993, the Hollandsche Schouwburg has informally filled the role by displaying Holocaust-era artifacts and archiving victims’ names.

The Schouwburg is currently raising funds to convert itself into a “fully fledged” museum of the Holocaust in the Netherlands, according to its strategic plan. In addition to memorializing 104,000 Dutch Jews killed during the war, the organization aims to enhance its presentation of testimonies from Holocaust-era bystanders, rescuers, resistance fighters and persecutors.

In the meantime, the Jewish Historical Museum maintains a “digital monument” to the Jewish community, recording the names of Dutch Holocaust victims and digitally archiving their documents. Based on “register lists” created by the Nazis in 1941, the monument allows online visitors to learn about victims in specific neighborhoods and families.

Though the Quarter includes just four major sites, the neighboring Dutch Resistance Museum promotes a “Persecution and Resistance” walking tour between its building — itself a former synagogue — and the Anne Frank House across town. A guidebook explains the significance of sites associated with Nazi crimes and Dutch resistance, many of which would otherwise go unnoticed.

Find the original story here.

Original BBC News article found here

By Anna HolliganBBC News, The Netherlands

Renovations in Amsterdam apartments – nicknamed “halal homes” in the press – have sparked a political row in the Netherlands.

About 180 apartments in Amsterdam have been given special makeovers which suit the wishes of Muslim residents. Features include individual taps that can be used for ritual cleansing before prayers and sliding doors to keep men and women apart.

Apartments in Bos and Lommer area
The renovated apartments look quite typical from the outside

 Some right-wing politicians have been stirring up public opposition, warning that anyone asking for such modifications should “leave for Mecca”.

From the outside, the apartments look no different from other social housing blocks in the residential area of Bos and Lommer, in the less opulent western reaches of the capital.

Aynur Yildrim gives a tour of her home with the enthusiasm of an inspired estate agent. In the bathroom she bends to reveal the lowered water point – a modification that, in some variation, might equally exist in non-religious homes. But it is the perceived religious aspect of these changes that has made them so controversial.

And it is in the tidy kitchen that the distinction is most striking, as Ms Yildrim shows off the sliding doors.

“I wanted a closed kitchen, in order to be able to close the kitchen off now and then for a bit more privacy. Sometimes we like to be separated, the women on one side and the men on the other.”

Wim de Waard of the housing association Eigen Haard insisted that the changes were “absolutely not religiously inspired – they are just practical adaptations”. The adaptations followed consultations with local residents, including Muslim groups.

Mr de Waard stressed that apartments were not reserved for Muslims – homes were assigned on the basis of rank on the waiting list, size of household and income.

Aynur Yildrim in her apartment in Amsterdam
Aynur Yildrim is enthusiastic about the adaptations which fit in with Muslim tradition

Wilders outraged

For many Dutch people, living in a historically tolerant and liberal country, the idea of separating men and women has led to some criticism that these buildings are effectively condoning some kind of gender inequality.

The controversial anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders accused the Dutch authorities of subsidising a “medieval gender apartheid”.

He has publicly prophesied about an impending “ghettoisation” of Dutch neighbourhoods – not unusually strong words from a man who once appeared in court for his strident rhetoric. Mr Wilders was cleared of inciting religious hatred two years ago.

After a poor performance in recent parliamentary elections, Mr Wilders may be angling to woo immigration-conscious right-wing voters again with his strong, headline-grabbing statements. Recent opinion polls suggest that if there were to be an election tomorrow, his Freedom Party (PVV) would win.

A Dutch property developer and PVV supporter said he was “shocked” by the “halal homes” concept.

“It’s a ridiculous idea, I thought it was a joke,” he complained.

“It turns into reality. The rules of the Koran are discrimination, it is stimulating discrimination. It’s taking us back to medieval times.”

“These immigrants are from lower social classes, they’re not educated, they’re bringing those values to our Dutch society – the opposite should happen, they should adapt to our modern and free values.

We should teach them to integrate. This is backwards. What if it were on buses? If we were to separate men and women on buses it would be like discrimination again, here in the Netherlands. It’s crazy. I can’t believe it. It frightens me.”

Using tax revenueBut many residents in the area seem to accept that what their neighbours do in the privacy of their own homes is entirely up to them.

Geert Wilders - file pic
Geert Wilders has long campaigned against Muslim influence in Dutch society

Tess Duijghuisen lives in the same block and said: “A lot of new people arrived here lately, a lot of young people like me, so trust me, there’s no problem of ghettoisation.

“And there are a lot of exchanges between people from all nationalities, which makes life much nicer here.”

On internet forums, some users have made light of the renovations, with comments such as, “I believe in the power of disco, please can I have a disco ball built into my apartment?”

When I asked Dutch followers on Twitter why the opposition, they told me “it’s wrong that inequality should be subsidised by tax money” and that another country’s traditions “may be offensive to others”.

It is a debate over the public versus private spaces. When the public purse is used to part-fund modifications, which many see as the religious antithesis of traditional Dutch society, conflict emerges.

Public funding is actually in the form of a guarantee, the housing association says. Yet it is still perceived as a subsidy.

The housing association says the complex is completely mixed, that the homes have been renovated to improve their “rentability” and that it is just trying to keep everyone happy. Many would argue that that is a tough ambition to fulfil – whether in religion, politics or our private lives.

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By TOBY STERLING — Associated Press

DORDRECHT, NETHERLANDS — Just as the first storms of winter roll in, Dutchman Johan Huibers has finished his 20-year quest to build a full-scale, functioning model of Noah’s Ark – an undertaking of, well, biblical proportions.

Huibers, a Christian, used books 6-9 of Genesis as his inspiration, following the instructions God gives Noah down to the last cubit.

Translating to modern measurements, Huibers came up with a vessel that works out to a whopping 427 feet (130 meters) long, 95 feet (29 meters) across and 75 feet (23 meters) high. Perhaps not big enough to fit every species on Earth, two by two, as described in the Bible, but plenty of space, for instance, for a pair elephants to dance a tango.

Johan’s Ark towers across the flat Dutch landscape and is easily visible from a nearby highway where it lies moored in the city of Dordrecht, just south of Rotterdam.

Netherlands Noah's Ark

Johan Huibers poses with a stuffed tiger in front of the full scale replica of Noah’s Ark after being asked by a photographer to go outside with the animal in Dordrecht, Netherlands, Monday Dec. 10, 2012. The Ark has opened its doors in the Netherlands after receiving permission to receive up to 3,000 visitors per day. For those who don’t know or remember the Biblical story, God ordered Noah to build a boat massive enough to save animals and humanity while God destroyed the rest of the earth in an enormous flood. Peter Dejong — AP Photo

Gazing across the ark’s main hold, a huge space of stalls supported by a forest of pine trees, visitors gaze upon an array of stuffed and plastic animals, such as buffalo, zebra, gorillas, lions, tigers, bears, you name it. Elsewhere on the ark is a petting zoo with actual live animals that are less dangerous or easier to care for – such as ponies, dogs, sheep, and rabbits – and an impressive aviary of exotic birds.

“This boat – it’s amazing,” said Alfred Jongile, visiting from South Africa with his Dutch wife.

For Huibers, a builder by trade, it all began with a nightmare he had in 1992, when the low-lying Netherlands was flooded, as it has been many times throughout its history.

Huibers thinks that new floods are possible, not least due to global warming. He cites a New Testament passage prophesying that “the cities of the coast shall tremble” near the end of times.

But he’s not worried the whole Earth will ever be flooded again. In the Bible, the rainbow is God’s promise it won’t be.

“I had a call from American television,” he says, laughing. “This has nothing to do with the end of the Mayan calendar,” he said.

He said his motivation is ultimately religious, though. He wants to make people think what their purpose is on Earth.

“I want to make people question that so that they go looking for answers,” and ultimately find salvation through God and eternal life, he said.

Johan’s Ark also contains a restaurant on the topmost level and a movie theater capable of seating 50 people. Around the edges of each level of the craft are displays on ancient Middle Eastern history and dress, scenes from the life of Noah, and games for kids, including water pumps and a system of levers to lift bales of hay.

Down below there is a honeycomb system of hatches, each opening into an area where food could be sealed in for long-term storage.

There is an outdoor space near the stern with a dizzying series of stairwells. Walking around, Johan points out features such as the curvature of the upper deck, which he said would have been used to collect rainwater for drinking, as well as for letting animals such as horses out to exercise where they could run around.

Another visitor, Martin Konijn, said he was impressed with the level of detail.

“You might know the story of Noah, okay, but if you see this you begin to get an idea of how it would actually have worked in practice.”

Huibers says he’s considering where to take the floating attraction next, including European ports or even across the Atlantic – though the latter would require transport aboard an even bigger ship.

But Huibers is also working on a new dream, perhaps even more unlikely than the first one: he wants to get Israelis and Arabs to cooperate and build a water pipeline from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea.

“If you have faith, anything is possible,” he says.

Original Sun Herald article found here