By Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs
[Editor’s Note: In March, the Dutch Israelite Religious Community accepted a donation of $21,000 from Christians for Israel to fund security in two of the Netherlands’ Jewish schools: Cheider and JBO. Christians for Israel is a Netherlands-based international organization with hundreds of thousands of followers in over thirty countries, according to a JTA report on the donation. Their vision is to “to establish a global network of Christians having local impact, for the blessing of the nation of Israel, the Jewish people and the church.”
Accepting donations from Christian (in particular, evangelical Christian) organizations remains a controversial topic across the Jewish world, including in Europe, but this donation comes amidst concern over security at Jewish schools and institutions in western Europe. Cheider briefly closed in January of this year in the wake of action against terrorists in neighboring Belgium. The following contextualizes Christians for Israel’s donation and explains why the community decided to accept the money.]
Let me first explain myself by way of an introduction. I’m Dutch and came back to the Netherlands forty years ago to become a local rabbi in a small community. Every day, I had people on the way back from the yeshiva, making me meshuga, trying to convert me and waste my time. Having just left yeshiva life in Israel, arriving in Holland I was not in that moment ready for such a confrontation with Christianity.
Forty years later, I’ve built up contacts with religious people – mostly Protestant ones but slowly Catholics too – and now it is very different. Today, there are those that say we are not allowed to touch the Jews or damage them – on the contrary, we have to support them.
In Holland, there is an organization called Christians for Israel and they have this belief. They have this feeling that so much went wrong, throughout the ages, when it comes to how Christianity treated Jews and now we have to support them. I have been close to them for many years and I have found that they don’t want to convert us at all. In fact, their approach is to try and convert Christians to have a positive outlook towards Jews and are supportive in financial and political ways.
Christians for Israel saw what was happening with Jewish schools, that we are in trouble and don’t receive enough support from the government – some, but not enough to have our own system of protection. So, they started to collect money so that the children of the schools could have a holiday and not spend their lives being surrounded by police and soldiers, because they feel that it is their obligation to be supportive.
Both Jewish schools in Holland – one, Cheider, is more religious, JBO a little bit less so – get complete financial support from the government for general education but not Jewish education. Our protection is not completely funded. If the government puts a policeman or a soldier at the door of the school, then the government pays for it, but when it comes to protection around the school, for example, we have to pay the salaries of those people. So, we have to pay for Jewish subjects and for the shomrim since they are working for us.
In order to pay for these things, we have donations from external, non-Jewish institutions. For the Orthodox school, we have an organization called Friends of the Cheider, to which all people can donate to contribute to the security of the school, and with that, we are able to support our shomrim.
The Jewish community is very small and therefore the schools are small. We don’t have enough students (because people are moving out) and the money we receive from the government is for each student. But, in order to heat the building for example, the cost is the same whether we have two students or ten students in a classroom.
In the past, there have been debates about whether to take money from Christians from Israel, but in general, we need the support of Christianity in Holland and in Europe in general. The Jewish community is a tiny community, around 40,000 Jews, including those who are far removed from the Jewish community and Jewish life. A lot of people have left already because there is no Jewish life.
We need political support, and the support we get from the Christian parties in Holland is very significant. This does not mean that all Christian organizations are on our side, but on common issues and ethical issues, a good relationship with Christianity is very important. We at Cheider have been taught that we can’t survive as a school without their support.
Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs is the Chief Rabbi of The Netherlands and a member of the Cheider school board. This op-ed is taken from an interview with Jacobs by Liam Hoare.