Chevrutah The Jewish Manifesto

Notes from Chevruta: “I wear my running away shoes 7 days a week”

“I’m always very aware of being the only Jew in the room. You will notice depending on the conversation going on in the room.”

What a few weeks it’s been for us Jews! My own favorite bit was the magic of Sukkot, the Jewish version of a summer music festival that once took place during the break between harvesting and sowing. Together with my sisters and niece, I shook the lulav like rain and smelled the etrog and celebrated the magic of Jews everywhere: that we’re still here. Still alive. Still shaking our stuff.

In the background, of course, was a hefty serving of the toxic cocktail of antisemitism, this one from the poisoned stash of Kanye West and Donald Trump mixed all topped off with Thierry Baudet’s embrace of David Icke’s conspiracies of lizard people. Is there an anti-semitic trope Thierry doesn’t embrace?

As the old saying goes, we Jews are tired.

In the midst of all of this, Oy Vey hosted our first public chevrutah session. Thanks to Lievnath Faber and Jelle Ziljstra’s excellent notes, it’s as though I was actually there, instead of where I really was: eating surprisingly delicious bagels at a wedding breakfast in Des Moines, Iowa.

As we did in the pilot, we chose to read Yael van der Wouden’s essay On (Not) Reading Anne Frank (in the original Dutch). We asked participants to think about the following questions:

  • What does it mean to be reminded of your Jewishness? And how has this impacted you directly?
  • What does it mean to be the only Jew? Generally, what does it mean to be Jewish in the Netherlands?
  • If you were not born here, has your identity changed? Has your experience of being Jewish changed?
  • Generally, discuss Anne Frank in the Netherlands.

Participants gave us permission to share some of the conversation without attribution. And here goes!

Anti-Semitism =≠ Anti-Zionism?!

Is anti-zionism giving people permission to indulge in anti-semitism? Our participants had thoughts.

“Some people go oh I’m not anti-semitic, after they pop off with some violent antisemitic tropes. And then when you confront them people will go ‘I’m not anti-semitic, I’m just anti-zionist, how dare you!’”


“The way that people see delegitimizing Israel or a Jewish nation state as completely legitimate. But if you challenge that you are being viciously attacked.”

Is there an adult Jew alive anywhere in the world who hasn’t been asked about their stance on Israel at some point or another? Like zionists, both anti-zionists and philo-semites operate under the assumption that all Jews everywhere are equally responsible for the actions of the state of Israel.

“It’s impossible to talk about Israel without being seen as a traitor of progressive values. It doesn’t even matter if you were dancing and singing when Bibi was indicted.”


“The only good Jew is a dead Jew or one that lives in Israel.”


Running Away Shoes

And talking of anti-Semitism…it’s such a web of conspiracies and subtleties that most people don’t even recognize it when it shows up that pointing it out can make many of us seem ”too sensitive” or absolutely bananas. Often we let it slide because explaining it is exhausting.


“We know that antisemitism happens a lot in the Netherlands. Other people don’t really seem to be aware of that. There is this sense of antisemitism being gone. They cannot really be convinced that we suffer Jew hatred.”


“The Jewish experience just doesn’t seem to matter. Any claim of antisemitism is dismissed as being overly sensitive.”


“When I talk about how my identity can feel unsafe in the Netherlands, people ask: Why don’t you go to Israel? Instead of: What makes you feel unsafe? What can I do about it?”


And then there are times when you need your running away shoes:

“I wear my running away shoes 7 days a week. On the street people call me ‘kutjood’ quite regularly. This never happened to me in Germany for instance.”

“Tolerance is the bare minimum. It’s for lactose, not for people.”

Despite the fact that Europe gave birth to the worst violence against Jews in the whole history of the Jewish people, it seems easier for many to blame immigrants than to look at Dutch society. As one participant pointed out:

“People blame anti-semitism on immigrants so easily…”


“Tolerance is the bare minimum. It’s for lactose, not for people.”


“Nobody seems to be really happy that you are there as a Jew. People always find it complicated. The tolerance is begrudging.”

“How can we deal with life-long trauma?”

Did you know that the vast majority of American Jews (of which I am one) are descended from Jews who came from eastern Europe before world war I? Living in a society like the Netherlands where nearly every Jewish person you meet is a survivor of the Shoah or a generation or two removed from a survivor requires an adjustment of expectation and perspective.

“For some people there’s a lot of trauma and for some there is none. I have no trauma about being Jewish, but I’m part of a society where this trauma is ever-present in Dutch Jewish circles.”

The trauma of the Shoah, while shared by Jews all over the world, is particularly present in Jewish life in the Netherlands.

“My grandfather after leaving the camp said: Don’t tell anyone that you are Jewish.”


“I call myself a product of the second world war sometimes. There’s trauma present in all my grandparents”


“For me I feel the loss of the Jewish community as it would be now, as it is in New York or Philadelphia. I could imagine it being something like that here. The trauma seems so deep. As a foreigner it is hard to interact with that.”


“There’s so much light, next to the pain and the trauma. If you are motivated to find it.”


Doe Maar Gewoon

Just be normal, is the motto of the Netherlands. Something some of us find difficult, as one participant stated:

“The Dutch culture seems to be very much like… Don’t be yourself too much.

Not too in your face.”


“Amongst other Jews it’s easier to blend in. In the Netherlands this is difficult to find sometimes.”


“I’m always very aware of being the only Jew in the room. You will notice depending on the conversation going on in the room.”


“Something that I learned was to kind of turn it on its head. To really present yourself as yourself and don’t worry too much. I try to lean into the discomfort.”


What’s in a Name?

My own name is fairly unique, probably because my family chose an uncommon spelling. Names can be a source of history or discomfort as one participant said:

“I was at a very important meeting for me personally, about an award I could maybe win. And one of the judges started talking about my last name. It made me feel uncomfortable, I don’t know if I want people to know this about me…”


“My name does not identify me as Jewish. What does it mean to be identified as a Jew by someone and not knowing whether or not you can trust people to not think of you in a negative way? To not know how people might respond to you is complicated.”


An Anne Frank in Every Attic

How many times have we heard: “My grandfather was in the resistance”, let us count the ways…

“There is a level of hypocrisy in Dutch people that is just astonishing. When I came here it seemed like all people were in the resistance, they all had an Anne Frank in the basement. There was no sense of Dutch complicity or compliance at all. A refusal to engage with history. Whether it being the colonial past, the Holocaust, or the way that queer people were treated here.”


“The only Jew Dutch people know is Anne Frank.”


“OK everybody is dead, and that’s all there is to say about Jews.”

Jewish status: It’s complicated…

…And joyous and fun and rewarding and painful and intrinsic to who we are…“It feels good to recognize yourself in other stories. But also have other people recognize themselves in your experiences.”

“As a Jew you have multiple narratives of history in you. It’s part of your being.”


“When my tzitzit slip out, or people notice my kippa. People cannot really seem to place me. They are confused by my lack of orthodox attributes. Sometimes they ask me ‘Do you have to wear that?’”


“Jewish themes are really connected to my own personal processes. My Jewish identity has always been a red line that continues to be with me. It’s ever changing and always in movement.”


“There’s always different ways to how I connect to my Jewisness. It has so many dimensions. More then only the painful ones that come to mind.”


We are Here to Stay

“I’ve been asked: You’re Jewish? Why are you here then? The implication is: When are you leaving?”

Jews have been in the Netherlands for centuries. “We are rooted here. We are a part of Dutch society in a way that sometimes people don’t like to acknowledge. Not that we come from somewhere else, or that we might go somewhere else.”