have you heard of Nijmegen?

Thursday, 14 January, 2016 - 5:17 pm


Dear Friends,


You all know Holland, and you’ve certainly heard about Amsterdam and about The Hague as well. But have you heard of Nijmegen? You haven’t, right? In that case, you also don’t know that dozens of Jews – men, women and children – gathered there last Shabbat for a Shabbaton.

It’s o.k. if you didn’t know. I didn’t know either. That is, until two weeks ago I had never heard of Nijmegen, until Rabbi Mendel Levine called me and asked me to come and speak there.

The city of Nijmegen is a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Amsterdam, in what is called by the Amsterdam Jews, “Di Medina” – that is, the outlying cities of Holland. Even those Jews who gathered for the Shabbaton don’t all live in Nijmegen, but are scattered in various towns and cities within a radius of up to 40 km from the city.

Each one of them lives almost on his own, in his own remote place. The local Jewish community, together with the Rebbe’s Shaliach, Rabbi Mendel Levine and his family, perform the holy task of gathering them up, one by one. This is not an exaggeration. I think that when Yeshahayahu said his prophecy about the Mashiach, “And on that day… you will be gathered up one by one,” He definitely meant what happened this week in Nijmegen.

Nijmegen does not have a minyan every week; only once every two weeks do about 20 people come there and have services.

They didn’t always have difficulties getting a minyan together. Until 1942 more than 700 Jews lived there, but then came the “Aktions” and the selections. The Nazis gathered the Jews and sent them “East”. 459 men, women and children never returned from there.

“Here, in this corner cheese store (yes, in Holland there are stores that are devoted entirely to cheese) they used to leave food outside the back door, for the Jews who were in hiding,” Rabbi Mendel explains to me. Late at night, a young mother, under the cover of darkness, would come to get a bit of bread for her children, and perhaps a piece of cheese as well, until someone revealed their hiding place and they, too, were taken. Yes, there were many “Anne Franks” in Holland.

The remaining Jews from this community scattered around the city after the war, but slowly they found each other, and as Yeshayahu said, they were collected, one by one, but this time not with hatred but with love and joy, without selections or Aktions; this time they came of their own accord and gathered in the shul on Shabbat.

Parashat Bo, which we will read this Shabbat, tells us about the Redemption – the first one, the one that opened the way for future redemptions, until we will come to the Redemption we are awaiting, hoping for and praying for three times a day.

About the connection between the Exodus from Egypt and the future Redemption, Michah the prophet said, “I will show him wonders like in the days of your exodus from the land of Egypt.” In other words, in the future Redemption, Hashem will show us wonders like we saw in the Redemption from Egypt.

When I was in Nijmegen, I thought that these people are actually the wonders that the prophet is talking about. The Jews were stubborn; they would not let the Nazis win. They came back and collected the remains and re-established the shul, the minyan. It is they who are the true miracle, a miracle relevant to all of us.


Sahbbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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