How Hanukkah Returned to Amsterdam’s Royal Concert Hall Decades After the HolocaustBreaking News
tags: Holocaust, Jewish history, Netherlands
AMSTERDAM – There’s a huge pipe organ where the Torah ark should be, but otherwise this city’s Royal Concert Hall looks, sounds and feels like a synagogue for one night each year.
That’s because since 2015, this 132-year-old establishment, one of the world’s most prestigious music venues, has hosted an annual cantorial Hanukkah concert. A tradition that had been paused for 70 years after the Holocaust, its resumption is helping to unite and revitalize a dwindling and divided community with its glorious past.
The program ranges from traditional numbers like “Maoz Tzur,” a 13th-century poem, to “Al Kol Eleh,” an Israeli hit from 1980. The predominantly Jewish audience sings and claps along – a major faux pas at almost any other concert here – as those unaccustomed to singing in Hebrew struggle to pronounce the words correctly in an evident attempt to connect with their roots.
“Putting Holocaust commemorations aside, it’s one of the few moments when you have people from all Jewish denominations, from the most liberal to the most Orthodox, in one place for a Jewish event,” said Rabbi Yanki Jacobs, director of the Amsterdam chapter of the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
The event’s highlight is a religious element in which Hanukkah candles are lit on a menorah that is an important symbol for this community: a 122-year-old silver artifact that was hidden from the Nazis and is an exact replica of the priciest Hanukkah menorah in the world, Amsterdam’s 267-year-old Rintel Menorah.
The concert was a tradition before World War II, when the Nazis put an end to it and went on to murder at least 75 percent of Dutch Jewry in the Holocaust. Since then, the Dutch Jewish community has failed to replenish its pre-Holocaust numbers. There are slightly fewer Jews living in the Netherlands today than there were in 1946, following the war, according to a demographic study from this year.
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