AMSTERDAM (JTA) – The effects of the Holocaust in the Netherlands and Jewish emigration have made Dutch Jewry’s communal institutions unsustainable, a key figure of that community said.
Michel Waterman, the director of the Crescas Institute for Jewish Culture, made the unusual statement during an interview published Tuesday in Het Parool daily ahead of his retirement this year from Crescas, which is the country’s main organization of its kind.
“We used to have Jewish schools, Jewish hospitals, old age homes, shops. Today’s Jewish community is too small to sustain its own infrastructure,” Waterman said.
The Netherlands used to have 140,000 Jews but the Nazis killed more than 75 per cent of them – the highest death rate in Nazi-occupied Western Europe. Thousands of Dutch Jewish families immigrated to Israel, or made aliyah.
The Jewish tradition, added Waterman, is not being transmitted from generation to generation in the Netherlands like it used to. “It’s happening much less than previously. Many families left. The Nazis almost succeeded in rooting out the Jewish People [in the Netherlands.]
Other Jewish leaders, including Dutch Humanitarian Fund Chair Ronny Naftaniel, have argued against pessimistic projections such as Waterman’s, citing a 20 per cent growth over the past 20 years in the size of the Jewish population, which jumped from 40,000 members to approximately 50,000 – partly thanks to ex-Israelis living in and around Amsterdam.
But Waterman remained pessimistic in the interview. “We are experience a lack of cultural infrastructure. How will we create one? Where will we get Jewish educators from?” he demanded. Some Dutch Jewish institutions and frameworks, he said, “are severely damaged and reduced” in capacity.
In 2014, amid a spate of anti-Semitic attacks, Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs shocked many Dutchmen when he told local media that if not for his obligations to the communities he serves, he would leave, in part because of anti-Semitism.
His statement, which followed the hurling of rocks on his private home’s backyard window, grabbed headlines and generated a passionate response from other religious leaders.
In 2010, similar reactions emerged to a statement by Frits Bolkestein, former European Commissioner and ex-leader of Holland’s ruling rightist VVD party, who told the Dutch-Jewish scholar Manfred Gerstenfeld that practicing Jews had “no future here, and should emigrate to the U.S. or Israel.”