(lubavitch.com) In an official ceremony earlier this week at the Arnhem Synagogue in Holland, Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs was formally given the title of Inter-Provincial chief rabbi with the responsibilities for Jewish life in 11 out of 12 of Holland’s state provinces.
The event marked the first time in 22 years since the passing in 1985 of former Chief Rabbi Eliezer Berlinger, that someone was named to fill his position. The induction came after more than six months of official procedure, during which a 50 member committee approved conferring the title last November.
The majority of Holland’s 25000 Jews live the Inter-Provincial region. Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam each have their own respective chief rabbis. A nationwide debate about completely restructuring the country’s rabbinate was recently abandoned and the status quo remains.
Jacobs, a Chabad representative in Amersfoort since 1975, told Lubavitch.com that the event was a formality, as Rabbi Berlinger named him his successor before his passing, and he in fact was the acting chief rabbi. But it is an important formality, as it will empower him to act as advocate and spokesman and “to do even more for the Jews of Holland.”
Jaap Hartog, layman President of the Inter-Provincial Chief Rabbinate office, called the inauguration “necessary and vital for all Jews.”
“It is very important for Dutch Jews to have an official leader who has the ability to act on their behalf.”
He cited the Chief Rabbi’s ability to interface with government agencies and ministers as a strong asset for the Jewish community. Recently, Jacobs helped the religious school in Amsterdam, using his contacts to garner government support.
Netherlands is home to 40,000 Jews widely dispersed—remnants of the many small communities of refugees and returnees which sprouted after the war.
“When I first arrived, there were 28 communities in my district, each with their own aging leadership and community structure.” As that generation passed away (there are 200 cemeteries in Holland) and Jewish practice and knowledge diminished, he said, Jews began to drift from their heritage and assimilation set it.
Many Dutch Jews survived the war by being sent to live with gentiles. After the war, most survivors struggled unsuccessfully with the court system to reclaim their relatives from the war adoptive families.
Rabbi Jacobs has worked actively trying to help Jews trace their roots. “We received strong directives from the Lubavitcher Rebbe to do everything possible to reclaim every Jewish child,” that was put up with non-Jewish families.
Increasingly, he says, many Dutch people who suspect that they may be of Jewish descent are searching for their roots and discovering they are Jewish. At a Hanukah party this year, Rabbi Jacobs was approached by a religious Christian man who said he had recently discovered he was Jewish and, seeing an advertisement for the event, was hoping that Jacobs could help him. His mother, a survivor of the Holocaust, had given him up for adoption and he assumed the family’s name. While checking up on his lineage, he discovered his mother’s family and found that they all had Dutch Jewish surnames.
He now comes to synagogue daily, donning Tefillin and participating in classes.
The Chief Rabbi also administers at the Sinai Psychiatric Center, Europe’s only Jewish psychiatric facility.
An Amsterdam native, Rabbi Jacobs was born in 1949 to a multi-generational Dutch-Jewish family. He graduated from Chabad yeshivas in France and Israel, where he obtained his rabbinical ordination. In 1975, the Lubavitcher Rebbe gave him a blessing to pursue rabbinics in Holland, instructing him to work within Holland’s Jewish community infrastructure.