Jewish Groningers Still Cannot Fully Live in Freedom

This article is focused on Judaism as a religion. It is important to realize, however, that Judaism is an ethnoreligion and that antisemitism is experienced by both religious and non-religious Jews. 

Over 75 years after the end of the Nazi occupation and despite Groningen being a relatively safe city, antisemitism is still part of daily life in the city. The city’s religious Jews report to 9to5 that they still cannot feel fully at ease to openly exercise their self-evident right to religious freedom.

The rising threat of antisemitism additionally forces Groningen’s Jewish community to accept the burden of extensive security protocols, and forces individual Jews to be aware of their appearance and identity whenever they enter the public.

In a place that is supposedly well known for its religious freedom, David Gurov, a member of the local Groninger Jewish community, still feels like he always has to “watch his back” when wearing a Kippah – the traditional Jewish headwear for men – in public. 

He reports how he was made uncomfortably aware of his identity after several incidents he experienced. In one of them, he was pointed at, and was called a “provocateur” as he wore his Kippah while walking past a Pro-Palestine demonstration, close to cafe De Drie Gezusters. 

He also recounts how a man confronted him in front of the synagogue, declaring that “the Jews control the Netherlands and the prostitutes.”

Additionally, Mr. Gurov, who also studies at the University of Groningen (RUG), says that he does not want to wear a Kippah in class. He is afraid that if his professors find out that he is Jewish this will lead to uncomfortable situations and hurt his grades.

He is also mindful about the potential reactions of fellow students. What made him particularly afraid was reading antisemitic comments aimed at an Israeli friend, on a Facebook page that is mainly used by RUG students. 9to5 was however unable to verify these claims, possibly as the original posts had been deleted.

Nevertheless, Mr. Gurov says that he feels more comfortable openly expressing his religious identity in Groningen than in his hometown of Cologne, Germany.

According to Johanna Tanja, a scholar of Jewish history, the effects of antisemitism are “always there but sometimes just more or less present”. She reckons this affects the daily life of the Jewish community of Groningen.

The Jewish community in Groningen was nearly annihilated by the Nazis, but was kept alive by a small number of survivors. Because of safety concerns, the community purposely has no public email address or phone number and can only be reached through a non-Jewish middleman, the Stichting Folkingestraat Synagoge.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Stichting Folkingestraat Synagoge confirmed that they regularly have to filter out (and report) antisemitic slurs and threats that are directed towards the community. 

Police are also always present when the Jewish community assembles in the synagogue of Groningen. Additionally, according to multiple members, extensive background checks are performed on anyone who intends to join their services and community. 

There is also no published schedule of their services, and the community relies on their members to inform each other about prayers and events, Politico reported in 2019.

It has not always been like this, however. Another member of the Jewish community, Leo Dvortsin, recalled how during his childhood tourists sometimes accidentally walked into their prayers at the synagogue. The stricter security measures were installed around 2005, in a response to multiple antisemitic terror attacks in Europe, and are kept in place ever since.

As antisemitism is on the rise all over Europe, including the Netherlands, it is however unlikely for these measures, and the burden that comes with them, to be gone anytime soon.

Picture by Mauistik via Pixabay.

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