June 13, 2014 admin


I looked down at the prayer book. Something had suddenly felt different; the melody had unexpectedly changed, alerting me to the fact that the words were no longer following the beaten path of this section of the service, familiar to me since my teens.
I found the place. Yes, here we were, in the middle of the blessing to which the rabbis gave the name ge’ulah, ‘redemption’, which links the Shema meditation on the oneness of God to the beginning of the daily Amidah prayer. But this version was decidedly different; something definitely didn’t feel quite right.
It was a Monday morning and we were gathered in the small synagogue of Lochem, in the east of Holland. Jews had first been recorded here in the fourteenth century, but continuous settlement dated only from the beginning of the eighteenth. The synagogue was dedicated on the 20th October 1865. In many of the small towns of the Twente region, and all over Holland, such synagogues still stand, gracious in their Dutch brickwork, the former homes of communities which loved and cherished them. Before the war there had been two kosher butchers in Lochem and at least five kosher bakeries.
Outside on the wall were plaques with names; I counted more than eighty. The family name Fortuin appeared nine times, as did Vries; the name Heilbron was recorded eight times, Roos and Wijler five times each. These must have been grandparents and parents, brothers and sisters, little children. Between the four columns into which the list was subdivided was a dedication, beneath the heading 1940 – 1945.
I looked down at the prayer book and carefully followed the unfamiliar words:
In recent generations your enemies caused a great blow to fall upon your people, such as had never before been seen in the world. Yet, amidst the darkness of the years of the Holocaust, your people Israel survived, a very few, a remnant of a remnant, wretched and traumatised. To them you gave strength and they built new lives…
That new life was right here, in this singing which echoed off the stone walls and the beautiful geometric patterns of the ceiling and came back to encircle us from every side. What singing that was! And this was just an ordinary Monday morning, just a simple day in the liturgy like every other workaday Monday. Yet it was not an ordinary Monday. The community had gathered here, travelling from different towns in ones and twos, some from as far as a hundred kilometres away, to pray, to study, to express together their abiding love of this beautiful, painful, haunting heritage which would not left them alone but drew them back in spite of everything with immeasurable grace and power to dedicate themselves to it more deeply.
There was not a person here who did not have a story: ‘My mother was hidden in forty-seven different homes’. ‘They were going to pull that house down, when they found that it was full of hiding places…’
The melody changed again, to the music of the Hatikvah. I looked back down at the words:
You have drawn back together those who were scattered among the nations, and re-gathered from the four corners of the earth those who were dispersed, and the children have returned to their borders.
Not just in Israel, but across Holland, across Europe, people are returning to rediscover the borders, fields and rifts and rivers of their heritage and faith, and the music of their spirit.

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