The newly installed mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, told the Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE) that Amsterdam “owes a tremendous amount of gratitude to its Jewish citizens” and would like his city to retain its title as the “Jerusalem of the West”.
Amsterdam was known as the “Jerusalem of the West” before the Holocaust because it had become one of the great Jewish centers during recent centuries.
Van der Laan gave a long and wide-ranging interview to the official magazine of the RCE, called Kehilot. During the interview, Van der Laan was sitting alongside the Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, who serves as the member of the Rabbinical Council of the RCE and is the Chief Rabbi of the Inter Provincial Chief Rabbinate of The Netherlands.
When the mayor was asked about the Jewish community in Amsterdam, Van der Laan declared that it was a “steady well of inspiration.”
“Amsterdam owes a tremendous amount of gratitude to its Jewish citizens,” Van der Laan said. “They have contributed a lot of knowledge, entrepreneurship and spirit. It was not called ‘Jerusalem of the West’ in vain. For me, it is still that way, and, though immeasurably damaged, it will be so forever.”
Mayor with Rabbi Jacobs. 'Tolerance begins at home'
However, the mayor did concede that the Jewish community was dwindling, so much so, that the two Jewish day-schools in Amsterdam, the only ones in Holland, have a perpetual shortage of pupils.
“It is important to realize as a person and as a leader that this problem is a consequence of the Holocaust,” the mayor replied. “Of course, this is at all times to be kept in mind. I can’t imagine any leading person in Holland who would be blind to this consideration. This is my answer, regarding the attitude to adopt.”
'We don’t want a melting pot'
As the former minister of integration and housing, Van der Laan also had some interesting things to say on tolerance and integration.
“As minister of integration, I already explained that if people move to another country, they have to learn the language and the rules to be able to function in their new environment,” Van der Laan said. “That has always been so and is universally admitted. But meanwhile, be proud of your origins. That should be your inspiration. We don’t want a melting pot.”
Rabbi Jacobs suggested that tolerance and respect should become part of the compulsory integration courses for immigrants; this was put to the mayor.
“The Rabbi is totally right. Tolerance begins in school, but even more so at home,” the mayor responded. ”There the children have to see that it is an obvious state of mind. In the integration courses we could make that clear from the start to people who come from other countries where this is not so evident. This happens already, but we should make it official. Experience shows us that what is obvious for us is not always understood as such in other cultures.”
“We are trying to give the people the feeling that there are limits that are not to be crossed. Discriminatory behavior will just not be accepted, towards anybody. And in my short time as a mayor, I’ve been able to see that the Amsterdam police are indeed reinforcing this idea without any compromise.”
Finally, Rabbi Jacobs asked his good friend the mayor whether he thought that European Jewry can survive.
“I am astonished by the question, because for me there is no doubt about it,” Van der Laan responded. “European Jewry has already shown its capacity to survive and remains a universal factor of inspiration. In this city in particular, everybody feels the Jewish legacy in humor, esprit and on so many other different levels. My optimism, obviously backed by a sense of responsibility, will hopefully be of support to you.”
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