Controversy in Holland Erupts over Commemoration’s Attendees

A fight has erupted in the Dutch Jewish community over a planned commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the end of the German occupation here.

The controversy, which has been covered extensively in the general Dutch press, concerns who should take part in the event, which is set to take place Sunday at the 3-century-old Sephardi synagogue in Amsterdam.

Among those scheduled to attend the commemoration are Prince Consort Claus; his eldest son, Crown Prince Willem Alexander; and Premier Wim Kok. The previous mayor of Amsterdam, Ed van Thijn, who is Jewish, was also slated to attend, as was Ashkenazi Chief Cantor Hans Bloemendal.

Although the commemoration is not a religious service, it has been organized by various Dutch Jewish congregations — both Liberal and Orthodox.

But last month, the Orthodox former chief rabbi of Amsterdam, Meir Just, and a group of people close to him, objected to the participation of non-Orthodox Jews. They said the memory of the more than 100,000 Dutch Jews who died in the Holocaust would be desecrated by the participation of “heretics” in the event.

Just even objected to the participation of Bloemendal, who has served as chief cantor for 46 years, because he is not Orthodox. As a result, several Orthodox rabbis announced that they would not attend the commemoration.

Jacob Loonstein, one of those close to the former chief rabbi, said his ancestors who died in the Holocaust would not have accepted a ceremony organized partly by Liberal Jews.

Just is no stranger to controversy. He was originally given the chief rabbi post for a five-year period, following the retirement of former Chief Rabbi Aaron Schuster. But at the end of that period, Just refused to step down. In the end, he was given the largely honorary title of chairman of the Chief Rabbinate of the Netherlands.

The synagogue where the commemoration will take place was the location of the first Jewish service held in Holland after the liberation of Amsterdam. The service 50 years ago, attended by hundreds of Jews, was conducted by the late Chief Rabbi Justus Tal, who had been in hiding in Amsterdam.

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