Sunday, 29 Mar 2020 - 4 of Nisan, 5780

Coronavirus crisis: A lot of initiatives in the Jewish community of The Netherlands to help the elderly and most vulnerable people

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The country has taken a different approach to the coronavirus crisis compared to many other countries in Western Europe  like France, Germany, Belgium, Italy or Spain.

’As you can see behind me there is no total lockdown in The Netherlands yet,’’ says Anne Ornstein, a Dutch Jewish journalist writing for the Joods.nl website as she posted a video from Amsterdam to describe the situation in her country.

The country has taken a different approach to the coronavirus crisis compared to many other countries in Western Europe  like France, Germany, Belgium, Italy or Spain.

Sweden has a similar policy. The United Kingdom, whose Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, had initially adhered to the same “herd immunity” policy as The Netherlands, changed somehow and introduced stricter measures on Monday, telling residents to stay home and ordering shops selling non-essential goods to shutter. Johnson on Monday finally ordered a full lockdown.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said that social distancing will only prolong the disastrous effects of the virus. He believes — based on the knowledge of medical professionals — that the Dutch population should be somewhat exposed to the virus so that immunity can be formed and society can return to a sense of normalcy as quickly as possible.

The Dutch government did shut down schools, cafes, movie theaters, houses of worship and many offices, but we are still free here to move around, shop, pick up takeout and receive packages in the mail.

‘’Our relative freedom is of course a huge privilege and a convenience that at times feels reassuring. But as bodies pile up across the continent — the Netherlands has had over 200 deaths — our reality is also a growing source of fear that not enough is being done to prevent the rampant outbreak that is ravaging Europe and the rest of the world,’’ wrote Cnaan Liphshiz, a European correspondent for JTA who lives in the Netherlands.

“We have new measures taken by the government almost every day. One of those measures is that elderly people cannot receive visitors anymore in order to prevent contamination which of course  has also very big consequences for elderly and vulnerable people in the Jewish community,’’ explains Anne Ornstein in a conversation with European Jewish Press.

‘’That’s why there has been a lot of initiatives that have been taken within the community. For example, kosher shops are delivering food at home for a small fee if you live outside of the Jewish neighborhood or no money at all.’’

‘’We also see that a lot of young people have started initiatives like Maccabi Holland, a sport movement, which has organized a group of hundreds volunteers who are helping the elderly and most vulnerable within the Jewish community.’’

‘’Like in other cities of Europe, the shuls have been closed, for the first time since WWII, but we also see on the other hand that a lot of shiurim and other Jewish lectures are put on social media or are made available for people to follow from their houses.’’ ‘’We also see in light of Pesach, boxes are being made, called ‘’Do it yourself a Seder’’, for people who are alone or with very few family members, to have all they need for their Seder.’’ This was an initiative of Chabad Holland and a few other Jewish organizations in the country.

‘’Last Friday, there was a communal Kabalat Shabbat via Zoom.’’

In a spiritual message of support, Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, Chief Rabbi of The Netherlands, wrote: ‘’In three weeks it will be Passover, the feast of the Exodus from Egypt, liberation from slavery. But we feel the opposite of liberation this year. It seems, feels and is a given: we have nowhere to go! We are stuck. But are we really stuck or does stuckness have a perhaps predominant spiritual component? Slavery also has a lot to do with how I view my limitations.’’

‘’Let me state that it is a healthy and important principle within Jewish thinking to see the good in the other person and to look at yourself with a critical eye.’’

Around 30,000 Jews live in The Netherlands.

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