Our congregation exists 32 years this year 2023 on September 30, on Sukkot (Tabernacles). In this context, I would like to take you to look at a piece of history of the city of Amsterdam and of our congregation Beth Yeshua.
The first Jewish Messianic community in the Netherlands
after the Second World War
That’s how my husband and I started on Sukkot in 1991 with the Jewish Messianic Congregation Beth Yeshua. 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 celebration of 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. 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 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, or so we believed. And that is why we rented a beautiful building on the Nieuwe Herengracht for the first year in the house that had belonged to a Jewish merchant in the seventeenth century. The congregation increased in number so much that in 1993 the congregation moved to the Weteringkerk building at Veluwelaan 20. Beth Yeshua still has her meetings there. Now that the pandemic is hopefully coming under control, partly thanks to the vaccines and the caring policy in the Netherlands, the possibility of gatherings is finally coming into view again.
Jewish migrants from Portugal
Now on to a piece of history of the city of Amsterdam, namely Waterlooplein. This history begins around 1600, when the island of Vlooienburg was 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. That 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: Lange Houtstraat, Korte Houtstraat and 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
The Archeology Magazine edition 3-21 contains an article about this Vlooienburg district. It has been written about what was found by archaeologists when they investigated this district. Two entire blocks of houses were carefully combed. Especially the old waste pits of residents from a bygone era 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 spot where the Mozes and Aäron Church now stands. In 1639, painter Rembrandt came to live nearby at Breestraat 4, in the current Rembrandt House.
Poor and rich Jews
It is quite possible that these two most famous Dutchmen of the Golden Age crossed each other’s paths. In any case, they lived in this new neighborhood at the same time for many years. The Jews of the Iberian Peninsula often arrived in the Republic empty-handed, but not all of them. Some wealthier families were already sending chests and suitcases full of personal belongings ahead. The pottery from Portugal is made of a different type of clay than the Delft pottery, but it looks similar. 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 a place of refuge and example
It is a fascinating history1) to know how Holland managed to gain its liberation from the Spaniards. This happened by winning the Eighty Years’ War in 1648. This victory over the King of Spain brought many blessings to our country. As a result, Holland became a place of refuge for Protestants, Jews and dissidents. Here there was room for Enlightenment thinking. At one point, the Republic was the most developed in Europe in terms of development in the areas of art, education, trade, science. That is why the Russian Tsar Peter came to Holland, to learn from the Dutch how they built ships and also because of architecture and science. St. Petersburg was later built by Tsar Peter, complete with canals, as we know them in Amsterdam.
As far as Holland and the Catholic faith are concerned, it took some time before 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 had a Jewish ancestor. These people came to believe in Messiah Yeshua, sometimes forced or voluntarily in Spain or Portugal or later voluntarily in Amsterdam. Some of them returned to the Jewish faith without Yeshua, but still others joined the Protestant Church, which has had many fiery preachers.
Vision for the future
These people went and stayed in the Protestant Church until Beth Yeshua made the change with the help of Adonai. This is why the combination of the Messiah Yeshua and the Torah exists. It is a restoration of the teaching by Yeshua and Paul about Torah and Prophets, which became 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 festivities with a refreshed vision for the future!
1) “The History of the Republic of Holland 1477-1806” is an excellently written book by Jonathan Israel, emeritus professor 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 become acquainted with the history of the Netherlands.