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December 6, 2013

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PAGE 2A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS,, DECEMBER 6, 2013 i II i I Mega-menorah builds bridges between Dutch Jews and non-Jews The Christians for Israel menorah being mounted in 25, 2013. Sara van Oordt, Christians for Israel Nijkerk near Amsterdam on Nov. Europe. For another, it's the handiwork of a Protestant metal contractor, paid for by Christian Zionists and meant to be a sign of solidarity with the Jewish people. Oh, and it's kosher for use on Chanukah, too. "It's exactly like the rabbi wanted," Zijlstra said. The rabbi is Binyomin Ja- cobs of Chabad, who helped Zijlstra and a group called Christians for Israel design the nine-branch candelabrum so it could be used for the eight-day holiday. On Wednesday evening, Chanukah's first night, Jacobs intends to mount a crane and light the first candle in front of hundreds of Christians and Jews during a public ceremony in Nijkerk, not far from Am- sterdam. Though commonplace in the United States and even in Russia, public Chanukah events are a recent and revo- lutionary development in the Netherlands. Here they signify the growing self-confidence and openness of a Jewish community whose near anni- hilation in the Holocaust left a deeply entrenched tendency to keep a low profile. "Twenty years ago, this wouldn't have been possible," said Arjen Lont, the Christian Zionist businessman who donated $40,000 to build and By Cnaan Liphshiz BERLIKUM, Netherlands (JTA)--In a windswept park- ing lot near the North Sea shore, Kiaas Zijlstra stands motionless as he admires his latest creation. It's the first time he is test- ing the 36-foot menorah he has spent weeks designing and building in the shape of a Star of David in his metal workshop in the northern tip of the Netherlands. Despite strong winds, the menorah holds, thanks in no small part to its 6-ton base. iThis isn't just any mega- rr/enorah. For one thing, it may be the largest in all of transport the menorah. "It requires a lot of openness." Lont says the purpose of the giant menorah, which can be used either with electric bulbs or oil lamps, is to send a message. "After unspeakable suf- fering, the horrors of the Holocaust and most recently the attacks on Israel, Jews may feel they are alone," Lont told JTA. "This is our way of saying you are not alone, we are behind you." The first public Chanukah lighting ceremony in the country was organized in 1989 in Buitenveldert, near Amsterdam, by the wife of a Chabad rabbi, according to Bart Wallet, a historian of Dutch Jewry at the University of Amsterdam. Today, such events are held annually in 19 municipalities, from the northern city of Leeuwarden, near Berlikum, to the southern border city of Maastricht, according to Jacobs. Jacobs says public menorah lightings in the country sig- nify the Jewish community's confidence in asserting its place in Dutch society. "Nowadays it's also saying we are here, we are also a part of the fabric of religious com- munities and society," he said. Dutch Jewish reticence toward public displays of faith dates back at least to the 19th century, according to Wallet, when Dutch rabbis decreed that no Jewish rituals should be held in the public domain. At the time, Dutch Jews were keen on integrating into a democratic society as equal citizens, and they consid- ered it counterproductive to showcase religious customs that set them apart from their compatriots. The tendency was greatly reinforced after the Holocaust, when three-quarters of Hol- land's population of 140,000 Jews perished--a higher per- centage than anywhere else in occupied Western Europe. Today, about 40,000 Jews live in the Netherlands. Wallet says things began to change in the 1970s, when Dutch Jews began displaying greater activism around anti- Semitism andIsrael: Even today, however, many Dutch Jews retain a sense of reticence when it comes to public displays of religion. "There's nothing wrong with these Chanukah events, but to me they don't seem familiar," said Jaap Hartog, chairman of the umbrella group of Dutch Jewry, called the Dutch Israelite Religious Community, or NIK. "To me, Chanukah is more a holiday that you celebrate at home with your family. The public candle lightings are more of an American thing. "On a personal level, I'm not too keen on participating." Initially, Chabad rbbis organized candle-lighting ceremonies as part of their ef- forts to reach lapsed Jews, but today the menorah lightings are not organized exclusively by Chabad. Nathan Bouscher, a Jewish activist who is not himself religious, has co- organized candle lightings at the Dam, Amsterdam's best-known square. "It's a way to build bridges between Jews and the non- Jewish environment, but also within the community and between Dutch-born Jews and the thousands of Israelis who live here and the tourists from Israel," Bouscher said. Back at Zijlstra's metal workshop, his menorah is at- tracting attention from neigh- bors. During the test run last week, a few of them stopped by to admire his handiwork and congratulate him. One elderly man, Henk van Jaarsveld, looked up at the menorah with tears in his eyes. A self-described Messianic Jew, he showed off his Hebrew skills by reading the holiday greeting in Dutch and Hebrew that Christians for Israel had attached to the menorah's base. Next year, Christians for Israel says it wants to place the menorah in front of the Euro- pean Parliament in Brussels to protest legislative proposals that seek to restrict Jewish rights such as circumcising male infants. "On Chanukah, the Jew- ish people remember their rebellion against the Greeks because the Greeks limited the Jews' freedom of worship," said Roger van Oordt, direc- tor of Christians for Israel's Dutch branch. "We want to place this menorah there as a warning against repeating that history? 'Asylum' request focusing attention on anti Semitism in Sweden Anders Henrikson Annika Hernroth-Rothstein at a pro-lsrael demonstration on Nov, 22, 2012 in Stockholm. By Cnaan Liphshiz (JTA)--With an asylum application to her own home- land, Annika Hernroth-Roth- stein was hoping to draw attention to the problem of anti-Semitism in Sweden. Hernroth-Rothstein ac- knowledges the bid is "ab- surd'--but it's working, having garnered international media coverage and stirring debate. "EU statutes provide that asylum be granted to persons with 'well-founded reasons to fear persecution due to race; nationality; religious or po- litical beliefs; gender; sexual orientation; or affiliation to a particular social group,' "she wrote in Nov. 17 essay in Mosaic Magazine, a U.S.-based Jewish online publication where she first announced her bid. "Jews in Sweden meet these criteria, and should be eligible for the same protec- tion and support extended to non-natives." Hernroth-Rothstein's me- dia stunt has garnered cover- age in leading Swedish media outlets and Jewish publica- tions around the world. Yet as of Wednesday, one party seemed oblivious to her re- quest: the Swedish Migration Board, the government body responsible for processing the applications of asylum seekers. "I haven't heard of any case like'that," Katarzyna Zebrowska, the board's press officer, told JTA. "She may have left a form behind at our office, but that doesn't make her an applicant." Zebrowska explained that the board cannot process applications by Swedish na- tionals under Swedish law, which defines asylum as a residence permit granted to foreign refugees. Hernroth-Rothstein, 32, a well-known activist for Israel and against anti-Semitism, acknowledged to JTA that her request--which she said she delivered in person to the board's offices--in all likeli- hood would not be processed as an official application. In explaining her action, Hernroth-Rothstein has cited initiatives to further limit circumcision in Sweden (only licensed circumcisers may perform the procedure, though the country's Jewish community finds the arrange- ment acceptable); Sweden's ban on animal slaughter without stunning, which effectively prohibits kosher slaughter; and anti-Semitic crimes and harassment. "I have two sons, and I have to choose between giving them a strong, positive Jew- Asylum on page 15A At American Studies Association, boycotting Israel finds wide favor By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)--For 90 minutes in a packed hotel conference room in the heart of Washington, Israel was the colonizer, the settler state, the perpetuator of apartheid. As the annual meeting this weekend of the American Studies Association dem- onstrated, participants who favored boycotting Israeli universities far outnumbered those opposed. 0f44 speakers, 37 support- ed the resolution, inwhich the association would endorse and "honor the call of Palestinian society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions." The preamble to the resolution accused Israeli universities of complicity in the occupation. The session Saturday eve- ning was not determinative, however; itwas an open invita- tion to the body's membership to influence the association's 20-person national council. The council was supposed to take up the resolution on Sunday morning, but by last Tuesday evening it had not announced a decision, nor were its spokespeople return- ing calls. Pro-Israel groups active on campuses were watching the session closely. Until now, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement-- known as BDS--has made few inroads into American academe. One exception is the Association for Asian American Studies, which in April passed a resolution in favor of boycotting Israeli academic institutions. Geri Palast, managing director of the Israel Ac- tion Network, which orga- nizes pro-Israel activism on campus, said the American Studies Association meeting, which attracted a crowd of some 250 people, was ex- pected to be another victory for the BDS movement in part because the American studies field is dominated by left-leaning academics who tend toward tough critiques of what they see as U.S.-enabled imperialism. "My concern about some of these smaller academic associations is that they get amplified out of proportion," Palast said. Some opponents of the resolution said that however unrepresentative the session was of broader American so- ciety, it represents a growing trend on campuses toward endorsement of the BDS movement. "They are organized and there are quite a few of them on campuses," Simon Bonner, a professor of American stud- ies at Penn State Harrisburg, said of academic activists who favor BDS. Campus pro-Palestinian groups are energetic, Bon- ner said, and because of their single-issue focus they are likelier to get attention than Jewish student groups that are more diffuse in their activi- ties, such as Hillel. In addition, he noted, Jewish groups tend more toward dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian issue than toward activism. "Despite the stereotypes of Jewish power, if there is a Jewish position, it is one of dialogue," Bonner told JTA. The majority of speakers at Saturday's event painted a different picture, saying their pro-Palestinian campus advo- cacy was likelier to result in retribution--although aside from hate mail, no one de- scribed how such retaliation was manifested. Whatever the case, for an hour-and-a-half academics favoring boycotting Israeli universities exulted in a mir- ror image of the Washington in which pro-Israel often is pre-eminent. A number of the speakers, particularly Pal- estinians, said the American Studies Association and the field it represents is a refuge fromwhat they describe as an American society that is un- interested in their viewpoint. "The boycott would rep- resent a form of cultural divestment that is perfectly in keeping with the materi- alist politics of much of the methodology in American studies," said Steven Salaita, an associate professor of Eng- lish at Virginia Tech. Supporters of the resolu- tion said its warm reception at the conference was a signal of a shift in public opinion. Prior to the session, backers of the resolution gathered around a large table and welcomed passers-by with glossy pam- phlets; opponents were barely visible. Two handouts topped by a handwritten note saying "Opposed to Boycott" sat on a table otherwise crowded with an array of conference literature. "The ASA's open meeting was a clear indication that the time of fear and of the blockade on debate may be over--and that there is a new climate in which critical discussion of Israel's policies towards Palestine will no longer be taboo," David Lloyd, a professor of English at the University of California, River- side, wrote on the Electronic Intifada website.