Amsterdam has historically been the center of the Dutch Jewish community, and has had a continuing Jewish community for the last 370 years. Amsterdam is also known under the name "Mokum", given to the city by its Jewish inhabitants ("Mokum" is Yiddish for "town", derived from the Hebrew "makom", which literally means "place"). Although the Holocaust deeply affected the Jewish community, killing some 80% of the some 80,000 Jews at time present in Amsterdam, since then the community has managed to rebuild a vibrant and living Jewish life for its approximately 15,000 present members. The former Mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, is Jewish. Cohen was runner-up for the award of World Mayor in 2006.
Permanent Jewish life in Amsterdam began with the arrival of pockets of Marrano and Sephardic Jews at the end of the 16th, and beginning of the 17th century; their first Chief Rabbi was Rabbi Uri Levi. Many Sephardi (Jews from the Iberian Peninsula) had been expelled from Spain in 1492 after the fall of Muslim Granada. Those that moved to Portugal were forced to leave in 1497, where they were given the choice between conversion to Catholicism or death penalty on the grounds of heresy.
From 1497, others remained in the Iberian peninsula, practising Judaism secretly in their homes. The newly independent Dutch provinces provided an ideal opportunity for these crypto-Jews to re-establish themselves and practise their religion openly, and they migrated, most notably to Amsterdam. Collectively, they brought economic growth and influence to the city as they established an international trading hub in Amsterdam during the 17th century, the so-called Dutch Golden Age.
In 1593, Marrano Jews arrived in Amsterdam after having been refused admission to Middelburg and Haarlem. These Jews of Converso descent were important merchants, and persons of great ability. Their expertise, it can be stated, contributed materially to the prosperity of the Netherlands. They became strenuous supporters of the contender House of Orange, and were in return protected by the Stadholder. At this time, commerce in Holland was increasing; a period of development had arrived, particularly for Amsterdam, to which Jews had carried their goods and from which they maintained their relations with foreign lands. Quite new for the Netherlands, they also held connections with the Levant, Morocco and the Caribbean Antilles.
The formal independence from Spain of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces (1581), theoretically opened the door to public practice of Judaism. Yet only in 1603 did a gathering take place that was licensed by the city. The three original congregations formed in the first two decades of the 17th century merged in 1639 to form a united Sephardic congregation.
The first Ashkenazim who arrived in Amsterdam were refugees from the Chmielnicki Uprising in Poland and the Thirty Years War. Their numbers soon swelled, eventually outnumbering the Sephardic Jews at the end of the 17th century; by 1674, some 5,000 Ashkenazi Jews were living in Amsterdam, while 2,500 Sephardic Jews called Amsterdam their home. Many of the new Ashkenazi immigrants were poor, contrary to their relatively wealthy Sephardic co-religionists. They were only allowed in Amsterdam because of the financial aid promised to them and other guarantees given to the Amsterdam city council by the Sephardic community, despite the religious and cultural differences between the Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazim and the Portuguese-speaking Sephardim.
Only in 1671 did the large Ashkenazi community inaugurate their own synagogue, the Great Synagogue, which stood opposite to the Sephardic Esnoga Synagogue. Soon after, several other synagogues were built, among them the Obbene Shul (1685-1686), the Dritt Shul (1700) and the Neie Shul (1752, also known as the New Synagogue). For a long time, the Ashkenazi community was strongly focused on Central and Eastern Europe, the region where most of the Dutch Ashkenazi originated from. Rabbis, cantors and teachers hailed from Poland and Germany. Up until the 19th century, most of the Ashkenazi Jews spoke Yiddish, with some Dutch influences. Meanwhile, the community grew and flourished. At the end of the 18th century, the 20,000-strong Ashkenazi community was one of the largest in Western and Central Europe.
Occupation of Amsterdam by Nazi Germany began 10 May 1940.
Although fewer than 10 percent of Amsterdam's population was Jewish, there were two seeminly contradictory outcomes:
Part of the Nazi plan included consolidating Holland's Jewish population into Amserterdam, prior to the "Final Solution."
Canadian Forces liberated Amsterdam in the spring of 1945.
In 1964 Adje Cohen began Jewish classes with five children in his home. This grew into an Orthodox Jewish school (Yeshiva) that provides education for children from kindergarten through high school. Many Orthodox families would have left The Netherlands if not for the existence of the Cheider: Boys and girls learn separately as orthodox Judaism requires, and the education is with a greater focus on the religious needs. By 1993 the Cheider had grown to over 230 pupils and 60 Staff members. The Cheider moved into its current building at Zeeland Street in Amsterdam Buitenveldert. Many prominent Dutch Figures attended the opening, most noteworthy was Princess Margriet who opened the new building.
Most of the Amsterdam Jewish community (excluding the Progressive and Sephardic communities) is affiliated to the Ashkenazi Nederlands Israëlitisch Kerkgenootschap. These congregations combined form the Nederlands-Israëlietische Hoofdsynagoge (NIHS) (the Dutch acronym for the Jewish Community of Amsterdam). Some 3,000 Jews are formally part of the NIHS. The Progressive movement currently has some 1,700 Jewish members in Amsterdam, affiliated to the Nederlands Verbond voor Progressief Jodendom. Smaller Jewish communities include the Sephardic Portugees-Israëlitisch Kerkgenootschap (270 families in and out of Amsterdam) and Beit Ha'Chidush, a community of some 200 members and 'friends' connected to Jewish Renewal and Reconstructionist Judaism. Several independent synagogues exist as well. The glossy Joods Jaarboek (Jewish Yearbook), is based in Amsterdam, as well as the weekly Dutch Jewish newspaper in print: the Nieuw Israëlitisch Weekblad.
There are functioning synagogues in Amsterdam at the following addresses.
The Joods Historisch Museum is the center of Jewish culture in Amsterdam. Other Jewish cultural events include the Internationaal Joods Muziekfestival (International Jewish Music Festival) and the Joods Film Festival (Jewish Film Festival).
Six Jewish cemeteries exist in Amsterdam and surroundings, three Orthodox Ashkenazi (affiliated to the NIK), two linked to the Progressive community and one Sephardic. The Askhenazi cemetery at Muiderberg is still frequently used by the Orthodox Jewish community. The Orthodox Ashkenazi cemetery at Zeeburg, founded in 1714, was the burial ground for some 100,000 Jews between 1714 and 1942. After part of the ground of the cemetery was sold in 1956, many graves were transported to theOrthodox Ashkenazi Jewish cemetery near Diemen (also still in use, but less frequent than the one in Muiderberg). A Sephardic cemetery, Beth Haim, exists near the small town of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, containing the graves of some 28,000 Sephardic Jews. Two Progressive cemeteries, one in Hoofddorp (founded in 1937) and one in Amstelveen (founded in 2002), are used by the large Progressive community.
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