JEWISH AND KOSHER NETHERLANDS  הקהילה היהודית בהולנד    
   
  THE NETHERLANDS  
  JEWISH CEMETERY BETH HAIM, THE NETHERLANDS:

CEMETERY BETH HAIM
The Historical Portugues - Jewish Cemetery in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, The Netherlands 

Cemetery Beth Haim Ouderker A/D Amstel
Summer: Sunday-Friday till 17 hrs.
Winter: Sunday-Thursday till sunset
(max 17:00 hrs) Friday till 15:00 hrs.
Tel: 020-496-3498
Metro 51 (direction Amstelveen). Change at Oranjebaan' to bus 125, 174 or 175 direction Weesp.

HISTORY:

The Jews, who were driven out of the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the Fifteenth Century, arrived around 1600 in the tolerant northern Low Countries. A large group of refugees came to Amsterdam. Apart from the initial founding of a Synagogue, a site had to be found for the burial of the dead.

Amsterdam repeatedly refused to give permission for the establishment of a Jewish cemetery. The Jews were forced to bury their dead at Groet, by Alkmaar, some 50 km. away from Amsterdam.

In 1614 the first segment of the present cemetery at Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, named "Beth Haim" - the House of Life, was purchased, followed by further purchases up to 1690 - 1691.

Especially during the Seventeenth Century many splendid marble memorial stones were placed with elaborate carvings and inscriptions. During the almost four centuries since, the vast majority of the memorials have sunk into the ground.

Amongst the 27,500 plus graves on the site, which is just over four hectares in size, are many famous people who achieved their greatness in the fields of commerce, science and politics. To mention only a few as examples we may name:

Rabbi Menashe ben Israel, friend of the famous painter Rembrandt van Rijn, who apart from making an etching of the Rabbi also illustrated his books. It was Rabbi Menashe, whom together with Rabbi Jacob Sasportas, pleaded with Oliver Cromwell to allow the Jews to settle in England on philosophical and theological grounds.

Dr. Eliahu Montalto, personal physician to Maria de Medici. His grave was painted by Jacob van Ruysaedael amongst others.

The parents of the famous philosopher Baruch Spinoza also found their last resting place here at Ouderkerk. Many questions still arise over people who were buried at Beth Haim, which still have to be resolved; regularly publications are brought out e.g. over Mozes Jehuda Bebri, Ambassador of the Sultan of Turkey to the Court of Sweden.

The cemetery is not just famous for its historical connections, but the artistic nature of the memorial stones draws visitors both local and from the far reaches of the world. This is certainly thanks to David Henriques de Castro, who a hundred years ago made a catalogue of the oldest burial field, together with the texts on the stones, restored a number of memorials, and published a book "Keur van Grafstenen", with photographs, that is quoted in every encyclopaedia.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the ground, the vast majority of this rich cultural heritage has sunk away. The tiny Portuguese-Jewish community did not have the resources to enable it to carry on with the work that de Castro started. Other priorities arose; in 1923 the cemetery was almost full. As Jewish law forbids the exhumation of the dead, a solution had to be found, and that was that an old section of the cemetery was covered with earth to create more spaces. At the time it was estimated that the newly created area would provide enough space to last until 1963.

The barbaric happenings between 1940 and 1945 mean that the ground created in 1924 has still space available today, and will be adequate for the next 80 years for the remaining members of the community!

The Second World War had other consequences for the cemetery and for its visitors. Many of the reserved graves lie empty. Relatives, who are unable to visit the grave of their parents or kin due to them being transported and not returning, wish to place memorials so that they may mourn for their missed ones.

Visitors trying to trace their great- and great-great grandparents are saddened by the pitiful condition of the parts of the cemetery where they were buried. The fields of 1857 and 1892 have suffered greatly through the passage of time, compounded by the problems of acid rain, the marshy nature of the land and the rising groundwater. A complete restoration of these thousands of memorial stones now takes the highest priority.

The decimated Portuguese-Jewish community, guardian for nearly four centuries of this cultural inheritance, despite small subsidies from the local authority of Ouder-Amstel and from national and provincial government, was no longer able to prevent the deterioration of the cemetery.

In 1994 a fund was established bearing the name of David Henriques de Castro, to make possible the future preservation and maintenance of the cemetery by raising the sum of Five Million guilders.

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Source: http://www.bethhaim.com/index.html 

 

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