CORONATION RABBI
May 30, 2013
Beis Moshiach in #881, News

Upon the abdication of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Holland got its first new king in over 100 years. After 33 years on the throne, Beatrix, 75, said that it was time for “a new generation” to reign. Her son, King Willem-Alexander is 46. * Among the official guests to the ceremony was the Chief Rabbi and shliach of the Rebbe, Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs.     

By Mordechai Segal

 

A NEW KING

Former Queen of Holland, Queen Beatrix, announced her plan to resign several months ago. There was a ceremony marking the investiture of Willem-Alexander as king, in which the new king and all the members of the Dutch cabinet signed the required documents. King Willem-Alexander is the youngest of the European kings of Spain, Belgium, Britain, Sweden, etc.

Two religious Dutch rabbanim, the shliach Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, and Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag, Chief Rabbi of Amsterdam, were invited to the ceremony. These rabbanim were given this unusual show of respect because of a story passed down through the generations about how the childless Queen Wilhelmina received a bracha from the Munkatcher Rebbe (R’ Tzvi Hirsch Spira zt”l, 1845-1914) that she would have an heir. The following year, 1909, Queen Wilhelmina had her only child, Queen Juliana, the mother of Queen Beatrix.

Before entering for the investiture ceremony, the chief rabbis stood in the reception hall. There, all the members of the Dutch parliament, the upper and lower houses, greeted them and wanted to hear about the state of the Jewish community and how they could be of service.

R’ Ralbag said they utilized this rare opportunity to advocate for kosher sh’chita in Holland when recently, various demands had been made by the government which could have a negative impact on the hard-won approval of sh’chita of one year ago.

From now on, Dutch Jews will recite a special prayer during Shacharis on Shabbos that was composed for the new king. In it, they will ask Hashem to protect King Willem-Alexander. The prayer was printed in Hebrew and Dutch and is based on wording composed hundreds of years ago. It was said by the Jewish community on behalf of the royal family and adjusted now and then by the rabbanim to fit the current circumstances.

Regarding the Jewish community and its relationship with the government, the prayer states, “May the King of all kings, in His mercy, place a spirit of integrity and righteousness within his heart and the hearts of all his advisors and ministers, to do good with us and all the Jewish people.”

In addition, the Jews of Holland marked the coronation with an additional traditional ceremony that took place in the ancient Portuguese shul in Amsterdam. During the ceremony, fourteen Sifrei Torah were brought out by the heads of the k’hilla and a special prayer was said in honor of the coronation.

WE KNEW THE REBBE IS WITH US

Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs began his rabbinic career in Eretz Yisroel. It was in the 70’s when R’ Jacobs, a young man, was learning Shas and poskim in the kollel in Nachalat Har Chabad. This was after he had been brought close to a life of Torah and mitzvos and to the Rebbe.

However, a clear directive of the Rebbe made it clear to him that his Torah study was incomplete as long as a single Jew in his home country of Holland did not know of Torah. The local shliach, Rabbi Yitzchok Vorst, was already reaching out in Holland but he needed help. The Rebbe asked R’ Jacobs to return to the country he came from, this time, as a rabbi.

Within a short time, R’ Jacobs and his wife (formerly Raskin, from England) were in the Schiphol international airport in Amsterdam.

“I began working as a local rav,” said R’ Jacobs in an exclusive interview with Beis Moshiach, “and was successful, boruch Hashem. There were hard times but we knew that the Rebbe is with us. We sent a report to the Rebbe every week and received many blessings. The Rebbe kept writing ‘continue in your role,’ and demanded again and again that we not operate separate from the k’hilla. Thanks to this, I formed relationships which eventually resulted in my being chosen as the chief rabbi.”

In addition to his work as a local rav, he began working at the Jewish psychiatric hospital, Sinai Centrum, located in the Amsterdam suburb of Amstelveen which houses Jewish patients from all over the continent.

When the previous chief rabbi, Rabbi Eliezer Berlinger, passed away, the k’hilla decided to appoint a new rav in his place. There was no better choice than R’ Jacobs. R’ Jacobs chose not to discuss the attempts to prevent his election. When I asked him about this, he smilingly said, “There were no more problems than anywhere else. The most important thing is that I was finally elected, thank G-d.”

FROM A TRADITIONAL HOME TO THE RABBINATE

R’ Jacobs was born to a warm traditional home. His father went to shul every day and his paternal grandfather served as the chief rabbi of Holland before World War II. On his grandmother’s side he is descended from one of the most religious Jewish families in the country.

“They were so frum that they formed a special, closed k’hilla, in which they raised their children since the regular educational system that the government provided wasn’t good enough for them.”

When R’ Jacobs grew up, he wanted to learn more about Judaism “but there was nothing. I saw that Chabad is the best thing for me – they had just started working in Holland. I became close with R’ Yitzchok Vorst and he sent letters on my behalf to the Rebbe. I ended up going to the yeshiva in Brunoy, and from there to 770.”

R’ Jacobs married and then, upon the Rebbe’s instruction, the couple went to Nachalat Har Chabad where they lived until they got their marching orders.

Over the years, R’ Jacobs has been in the forefront of battles against anti-Jewish activity. He says, “When we came here forty years ago, there was no anti-Semitism whatsoever, but over the years, hatred has developed. It continues to grow both because of the Moslems and also because local Dutch youth do not know that the destruction of the Jewish people took place in Holland too. It doesn’t interest them.”

Three years ago, in the fall of 5771, some of these young thugs threw rocks at the windows of his house. This made a huge noise on impact and frightened the family. R’ Jacobs went outside to see who did it and saw young people running away. A week later, on Shabbos Parshas Noach, R’ Jacobs was returning from a festive event in honor of Rabbi Yona Metzger, Chief Rabbi of Israel. The two of them arrived at the Jacobs’ house and discovered a broken window. The local police set up security cameras and policemen were assigned to stand guard to ensure that these incidents not happen again.

The local media was in an uproar over these incidents, and the mayor of Amsterdam called the rabbi to ask whether he needed any help. Unfortunately, it was sometimes the local government that undermined the Jews. When Geert Wilders, a politician, did very well in the elections for the Parliament, he campaigned to stop what he views as the “Islamisation of the Netherlands.” He advocates ending immigration from Muslim countries and supports banning the construction of new mosques. In this vein, he also sought to outlaw sh’chita. Jews feared a new wave of hatred. After much diplomatic effort and appeals by members of the Jewish community, R’ Jacobs was successful, last summer, in getting the government to approve sh’chita.

“This was a victory not only for Jews but for Holland itself. Freedom of religion in Holland triumphed. If there was a question about the continued existence of a Jewish community in the country, that was finally done away with. The agreement ensured that a balance between freedom of religion, which enables kosher sh’chita, and animal rights and the prevention of cruelty to animals, would be preserved.”

A MAN OF HONOR

R’ Jacobs, 64, is responsible for the shluchim in Holland along with the shliach who brought him to Lubavitch, R’ Yitzchok Vorst, 75. Both are busy, as are the nine other shluchim who live and work in Almira, Amersfoort, Amsterdam, Harlem, Maastricht, Nijmegen, Rotterdam, the Hague and Utrecht.

R’ Jacobs describes a typical day on shlichus:

“This morning, there was a funeral in the north of the country. I traveled there because it is possible to meet Jews and get acquainted. Then I drove south. Someone finished writing a book about World War II. There were 300 people there, Jews and non-Jews. I addressed the crowd and, thank G-d, did well. Now I am back in my hometown and am on my way to a meeting with the vaad ha’kehilla about increasing programming in the area.”

Over the years R’ Jacobs has made connections with government officials. It is not surprising that, one year ago, he was made an Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau, one of the highest civilian awards given by the Queen of Holland. The honor is usually bestowed upon diplomats, princes of other countries, bishops and cardinals, artists and social activists. It was the first time in the history of the local Jewish community that a rabbi was given such an award.

Those present lauded the shliach. For example, Dr. Benoit Wesly, Chairman of the Dutch Jewish community of Limburg and Honorary Consul of Israel to the Netherlands, was one of the people who recommended Rabbi Jacobs for the award. Before the ceremony, Dr. Wesly said, “This is an important day for Jews in this part of the world. The award given to our rabbi is an honor for all the Jews in Holland. It gives our community great pride and we thank G-d for helping the rabbi attain this.”

Rabbi Aryeh Goldberg, deputy director of the RCE (Rabbinical Center of Europe), who is in daily contact with hundreds of rabbanim throughout Europe, explained that R’ Jacobs is an outstanding rav:

“Rabbi Jacobs is one of the outstanding rabbis today in Europe. His influence goes well beyond the borders of Holland and he uses it to help us facilitate Jewish life across the European continent.”

Former Queen Beatrix met with R’ Jacobs a number of times. He met the new queen, wife of the king, over twenty years ago when she initiated and dedicated a Jewish museum in a small city where there had previously been a beautiful community.

“She asked me to come and speak and I did. Since then, we have met a number of times and I think her relationship with Jews is excellent. As for her husband the king, although I met him at various events, we have not become personally acquainted.”

Photos from the recent coronation were seen all over the world and R’ Jacobs said, “It makes Jews proud. They invited me and one other Dutch rabbi, and not the askanim. This is a positive outlook for it shows they take pride in us. The Jews here were definitely happy to see respected Jewish representation in the news coverage and I got much positive feedback about it.”

At the ceremony, R’ Jacobs said, “I am certain that the warm relationship that prevailed between the outgoing Queen Beatrix and the Jewish community will continue under the reign of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima, particularly in light of the fact that the king mentioned in his coronation speech that he intends to follow in the path established by his mother, whom he admires.”

R’ Jacobs added, “As far as I’m concerned, the king was officially crowned when in the presence of the heads of state and Dutch dignitaries I recited the special blessing for an occasion such as this: Boruch she’cholak m’kvodo l’basar v’dam - ‘Blessed is He Who has apportioned from His honor to human beings.’”

In conclusion, R’ Jacobs emphasized that “We are constantly working as the Rebbe’s emissaries. We are preparing Holland for the hisgalus of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.”

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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