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Dutch Jewish Identity: A Conversation with Royalty

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of The Netherlands in conversation with Amsterdam community leaders.
Credits: Marie Broeckman
King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of The Netherlands in conversation with Amsterdam community leaders. Credits: Marie Broeckman

In 1602, Rabbi Moses Uri Halevi settled in Amsterdam along with a group of Jews who had fled from Spain. According to legend, these refugees had arrived earlier by boat in Emden, a semi-independent port city in Lower Saxony, and wandered around until they recognized a Hebrew text on a house. They knocked, and it turned out to be the home of Uri Halevi. He left with the group for Amsterdam and established the Portuguese-Israelite community there. Later, he became the chief rabbi of Amsterdam. Over the following hundred years, the Uri Halevi family was the only Ashkenazi family allowed to be members of the Portuguese-Israelite Community. I am a fifteenth-generation descendant of this Moses Uri Halevi.

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of The Netherlands alongside Mayor of Amsterdam Femke Halsema, greeting Rabbi Yanki Jacobs and other community leaders.
Photo Credit: Marie Broeckman

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking with King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of The Netherlands. I shared with them this part of my history and elaborated that my family, for all those centuries and generations, has been both proudly Jewish and proudly Amsterdamian and Dutch. The generations before me have contributed to both the Jewish community and to Amsterdam and the Netherlands. Doing my utmost best to not make it sound too dramatic, I asked His and Her Majesty to do everything possible so that my four daughters and one son, the sixteenth generation of Dutch Jews, may feel just as proud and connected to the Dutch (and Amsterdamian) aspect of their identity as the fifteen generations before them did. I will certainly do my best for that, but Dutch government institutions also have a responsibility in this.

The strength of our community lies within our youth, our elders, our unity,

Allow me to me clarify, I do not think that we owe our identity to the outside world. On the contrary, the strength of our community lies within our youth, our elders, our unity, in short; internally. We are proud of ourselves, of each other, and feel strongly connected to our country, Israel. An endless quest for recognition and to be liked is a waste of our time. That energy could be better spent on our own people. However, in the Netherlands, we are ultimately a minuscule minority, and there are negative forces that are doing everything to limit our visibility and freedom of movement as a community. It is therefore up to the government and its branches to ensure that our right to be and to be seen will not get lost.

This Column is a translation of a previously published column in Dutch for the Netherlands Jewish Weekly NIW.

The author can be reached through www.chabadoncampus.nl

About the Author
Yanki Jacobs is an Amsterdam-based rabbi and the 15th generation of Dutch Jews. He offers spiritual guidance to individuals in the Netherlands University Campuses and 'Zuidas,' the financial district of Amsterdam South. In addition to his rabbinical duties, he conducts research and publishes works exploring a range of topics such as ethics, education, leadership, identity, and communal values. Alongside his wife, Esty, he leads the Dutch chapter of Chabad on Campus and as well as the Chabad Community of Amsterdam South.
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