Beth Yeshua will be 30 years old on upcoming Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). Hereby a piece of history of the city of Amsterdam and of our municipality Beth Yeshua. First a brief history of Beth Yeshua.
In 1991 there was no Jewish Messianic congregation in the Netherlands. There was only the Hadderech Association. This had the vision as a Jewish Association to celebrate the Jewish heyday among themselves and they continued to stay in their Christian congregations. It was in 1991 Rebecca de Graaf, the incredibly special and dynamic leader of Hadderech, who got in touch with us.
Rebecca de Graaf-van Gelder
My husband Lion Erwteman and I have visited Rebecca’s home several times. Together with her we discussed our calling and plans to start a church in Amsterdam. She kept warning us not to do that. In the end we did, because we believed that the Eternal asked us to. She was invited to attend our first annual members meeting. And at the same time she invited Lion Erwteman to speak in the Oude Kerk in Delft. Our respect for her is great.
The first Jewish Messianic congregation in the Netherlands after World War II
Thus my husband and I started the Jewish Messianic Congregation Beth Yeshua on Sukkot in 1991. Special, because Sukkot was once the date on which King Solomon’s Temple was completed in 955 BC. The first service in that holiest building was the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot), which coincided with the dedication of the Temple. Beth Yeshua (House of Yeshua) gathered with 70 people for this first service on the Feast of Tabernacles! After that first service, people joined us because they shared the vision with us.
Gifts and talents
With their gifts and talents and energy they have helped build the church. We are grateful for that. Step by step we developed into the municipality we are today. Our congregation Beth Yeshua had to have its domicile in Amsterdam, we believed. And that’s why we rented a beautiful building on Nieuwe Herengracht in the house that had belonged to a Jewish merchant in the seventeenth century. The number of the municipality increased so much that in 1993 the municipality ended up in the Weteringkerk building at 20 Veluwelaan. Beth Yeshua still has her meetings there. Now that the pandemic is hopefully coming under control, partly thanks to the vaccines and the nurturing policy in the Netherlands, the possibility of meetings is finally coming into view.
Jewish migrants from Portugal
Now on with a piece of history of the city of Amsterdam, namely the Waterlooplein. This history starts around 1600. Then the island of Vlooienburg is artificially created in the Amstel, just outside the Amsterdam city walls. It is not entirely clear where the name Vlooienburg comes from. It is most likely that this name Vlooienburg comes from the word fluent. This is because the island was an extension of an area that was previously regularly ‘flooded’ by the Amstel. The island then consists of 3 streets: the Lange Houtstraat, the Korte Houtstraat and the Zwanenburgerstraat. This new part of Amsterdam and the surrounding area mainly attracts Jewish migrants from Portugal, but also famous artists, such as the Leiden-born painter Rembrandt van Rijn.
Spinoza and Rembrandt
In the Archeology Magazine edition 3-21 there is an article about this district of Vlooienburg. It has been written about what was found by archaeologists when they explored this area. Two entire blocks of houses were carefully combed. Especially the old waste pits of residents from bygone times tell us the most intriguing stories. For example, an almost intact Shabbat lamp was found in 1982 during the excavations. From its inception, Vlooienburg attracted various groups of immigrants, including many Portuguese Jews. A son of one of these Portuguese Jews is the later world famous philosopher Baruch Spinoza. He was born in 1632 on the site where the Moses and Aaron Church stands today. In 1639, painter Rembrandt came to live nearby at 4 Breestraat, in the present Rembrandt House.
Poor and rich Jews
It is quite possible that these two most famous Dutchmen of the Golden Age crossed paths. In any case, they lived in this new neighborhood for years at the same time. The Jews of the Iberian Peninsula often arrived in the Republic empty-handed, but not all of them. Some wealthier families already sent chests and trunks full of personal belongings ahead. The pottery from Portugal is made of a different type of clay than the Delft pottery, but it does look like it. It was long thought that Portuguese pottery was only found in Vlooienburg, but this also happened in other VOC cities, such as Hoorn, Enkhuizen, Middelburg and Rotterdam. In the seventeenth century, Portuguese pottery was often displayed as showpieces in wealthy households.
Holland as refuge and example
It is a fascinating history1) to know how Holland managed to achieve liberation from the Spaniards. This happened by winning the Eighty Years’ War in 1648. This victory over the King of Spain has brought our country many blessings. This made Holland a refuge for Protestants, Jews and dissenters. There was room for enlightenment thinking here. At one point, in terms of development in the fields of art, education, trade, science, the Republic was the most developed in Europe. That is why the Russian Tsar Peter came to Holland, to learn from the Dutch how they built ships and also because of the architecture and science. St. Petersburg was later built by this Tsar Peter, complete with canals, as we know them in Amsterdam.
With regard to Holland and the Roman Catholic faith, it took some time before Roman Catholics in the Netherlands were given the same rights as Protestants. Yet all this succeeded and that is a miracle in itself. You can find these developments in art and architecture. It is special how Beth Yeshua fits into this history. It is my firm belief that many of our members of Beth Yeshua have had a Jewish ancestor. These people have come to believe in Messiah Yeshua, sometimes forced or voluntarily in Spain or Portugal or later voluntarily in Amsterdam. Of them, some went back to the Jewish faith without Yeshua, but still others joined the Protestant Church which has known many ardent ministers.
Vision for the future
These people, like Rebecca de Graaf, entered and remained in the Protestant Church until Beth Yeshua turned the tide with the help of Adonai. Thereby exists the merging of the Messiah Yeshua and the Torah. It is a restoration of the teaching by Yeshua and Paul about Torah and Prophets, which has become known through the diligent work of my dear husband Lion Erwteman. That is a great privilege! The knowledge of this history has given me new insights and strengthened my vision and love for Beth Yeshua. I hope this will also be the case with the readers of this article. I wish you all special autumn parties with a refreshed vision for the future!
1) “The History of the Republic of Holland 1477-1806” is a superbly written book by Jonathan Israel, Professor Emeritus of Modern European History at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, America. Queen Maxima recently said in her interview in honor of her fiftieth birthday that she read this book at the time to get acquainted with the history of the Netherlands.