The Jewish Community of Amersfoort
The first Jewish citizens
The first Jewish citizens of Amersfoort were Sefardim, Spanish and Portuguese Jews. This word comes from Sefarad, the Hebrew word for Spain. Four of these Sefardim are known by name because they received the citizenship of Amersfoort, Emanuel de Tor Alto, Joseph Pereira, Abraham Rodrigues and Isaac a Royo. They were descendents of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were chased away in the summer of 1492, from the country where they had lived for many centuries, by the so-called Catholic Kings – Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabelle of Castilia, after instigation of Isabelle's confessional father Torquemada.
These people were so intensively interwoven with this land that it is even believed, although not by everyone, that the word ‘Iberia' originates in the word ‘Hebrews'.
The only chance the Jews had to live with the Spanish and Portuguese was the choice to be baptized, although the church followed these people, baptized by force, with suspicions and inquisition. They were called Marranos, new-Christians or in the negative sense ‘pigs'.
Part of the Spanish refugees came in touch with William of Orange, whose aunt, Mencia de Mendoza, the wife of count Hendrik of Nassau, was of Marranos origin as well and whose inheritor he became. One still hears the Marranos trumpets in the song “Merck toch hoe sterck”. William of Orange gave these outcasts as much as he could freedoms of worship, and they financed his war against Spain.
His daughter Emilia married even a Marranos nobleman. The connection between the House of Orange and the Jews has always been tight. In the end, the Sefardim arrived in Amsterdam and travelling via Maarssen, they settled in Amersfoort.
The township here accepted these people- who were certainly not without means- with open arms, knowing how much these Sefardim, with their trade-connections, could mean for the development of the town. But freedom of religion is something entirely different from naturalization. How afraid the craft-guilds were of these strangers! They kept their trade hermetically closed. These Jews were allowed to trade in honey, which they did, although this could hardly provide a decent living.
Because of the Sefardim being traders in woolen materials, they were allowed to deal with that as well. Three or four big looms were set up in houses in the ‘Bloemendalse street', providing employment for 30 to 40 people , Jews who had come with the great traders, as well as Christians who lived here.
Vondel sings about this in his poem: ‘The nightingale of Amisfort'
The spool of the cloth rustles through the tightened chain.
It combs and spins and knits and weaves the fleece.
Here the Stranger is welcomed by the hospitable residents.
Bad and good and without foolish splendor.
But it was not so beautiful as he imagines it to be, as these employers were cursed with terms like ‘pork and dog', and let well , it was the boys of the Latin school, not exactly the lowest part of society, who molested the Jewish children. But things changed for the better, because after the complaints the Sefardim put up to the Magistrate, he took firm action against the cursing and the throwing of stones and the parents were fined for the behavior of their children.
Somewhere in one of the warehouses the Sefardim came together in order to pray and when the first person came to die in about 1670, they bought a plot at the ‘Bloemendalse Buitenpoort', to bury the body. The first world-war and the mobilization before the second one, caused a disturbance in their rest for a short while, but invisible for us, they still rest in the Amersfoort area.
A Jewish cemetery may not be cleared, unless there is an urgent need for it, like for example the enlargement of a town. But even then the bodies and the gravestones are buried again in another Jewish cemetery.
The first Ashkenazi Jews
With the arrival of Ruben and Mozes Gomperts, bankers from Emmerich and Kleve the first Ashkenazi's also settled in Amersfoort. Ashkenazi's are also called High-German Jews. They entered the Netherlands across its eastern border. The word Ashkenazi comes from Ashkenaz, the Hebrew word for Germany, but the East-European Jews are also included in this definition.
This Gomperts-family was not without means either. They came with money, goods and good trade-connections, of which Amersfoort could profit. And well, money was the terrain of the devil, and that was more or less the spot where the Christian in general placed the Jew. In 1676 they received the pawnshop on lease. Being its keeper was certainly not an easy job. Once the cashier was threatened; his wife and children cursed at. But again the Magistrate acted on their behalf; altogether there were only a few incidents.
Some day the two Gomperts' brothers or cousins, this is not clear from the data base, handed the bank over, with consent of the township, to their uncle Lehman.
Even at the time that his son, Mordechai or Marcuslived in the town, we can see that the integration of the Jews is not as perfect as yet.
Although he studied to be Bachelor of the profession of Notary, he did not advance very much. With the offer of the Magistrate to keep the pawnshop, he was not happy either and with his consent, he gave the pawnshop to his brother Kosman, who at that moment lived in Prague. The latter was willing to come to the Netherlands, but his wife Judith did not like the idea at all. She insisted that the moment she stepped out of the coach she could go immediately to a notary, to assure that, if she did not like it in Amersfoort, she could return to Prague. Kosman paid a good amount of bail for it, but he did not hear anything from Judith about going back, certainly not after their daughter married the Jewish boy from Nijkerk, Jacob Marcus.
The Ashkenazi's did not like the prayer-service as it was held by the Sefardim thus the Gomperts' gave a room in the pawnshop as a place to hold prayers. The pawnshop was in the ‘Kromme street, corner Haversteeg'. (steeg = alley).
Sefardim and Ashkenazi's neither wanted to be buried next to each other when they were dead, and so the Ashkenazi community bought a plot in 1699, opposite the Sefardic cemetery, as eternal property. Now it belongs to one of the most romantic spots in the park-strip of ‘Zocher'. Although it is a quiet place, it is not the intention that the present homeless of Amersfoort will continue to put up their tents there, as was lately discovered.
The building of the present synagogue
The place where prayers were held in the pawnshop, which was closed on Shabbat and holidays, became too small and the community-leaders at the head of the growing community, bought a piece of land with housing from the ladies Amarantia and Sophia Drakenborgh in 1726. Within a year arose a square building with small windows of which the centre-line was south-east, in the direction of Jerusalem. And here as well, Amersfoort differed from the other communities who gave their permission for the building of synagogues. Everywhere they should be built inconspicuously among the houses, preferably with the front-door at the side, so no Christian would be tempted to enter. For 275 years the synagogue at the ‘Drieringensteeg' is one of the showpieces of the town of Amersfoort.
No picture of the original square synagogue has been found yet, but we know that there were chandeliers on a podium from which the Torah was read. Once there was a quarrel between Jonas Cohen, the great tobacco-planter and another synagogue-visitor, .The former caught hold of the chandeliers, but it is not clear if he wanted to use them for hitting. Sometimes the feelings were running high with an Oriental ferocity.
The synagogue at the ‘Drieringensteeg' was inaugurated on the eighth of February 1727 in presence of many dignitaries. More than 100 years later, in 1842/43 it received the shape which we know now. Town-architect Ruitenberg got the order to enlarge the building. The straight eastern wall at the side of the ‘Muurhuizen' was transformed into a round shape, which led to the result that the Holy Ark of 1727 had to be replaced. Although in many writings it is stated that this Ark, in which the Torah-scrolls were kept, is from 1727, it thus is from a building-year before that.
The square windows were replaced by neo-Gothic tapering windows with cast-iron frames and only in 1927 the glass-maker from Haarlem, Willem Bogtman would apply Jewish symbols in art-deco style. The great restoration then falls together with the 200 year anniversary, which was celebrated in a grand manner.
The question whether the enlargement of 1842/43 could provide enough space to contain all the Jews of Amersfoort, especially on special days remained, Even now
with so many less Jewish inhabitants, the synagogue is at a wedding almost too small to house all the people. I believe I found the answer of this problem in articles in the ‘Amersfoortse Courant' and in the general Jewish press of 1867. Both articles describe a new synagogue at the opposite side of the ‘Kortegracht/ Muurhuizen', where now the Cliniclowns are housed. It was a rebuilding done internally, possibly by the workshop of the firm Visser, a Jewish middle class family, who has contributed a lot to the boom of the Jewish community. Historians say that this place of prayer has been in use as such for 10 years next to the old one. With the 150 years anniversary of the synagogue at the Drieringensteeg, which was grandly celebrated, nothing is heard anymore about the new praying-house. So we stay with the riddle of shortness of space. It could be, that poor people who wore caps and wooden shoes, were not allowed to enter.
The tobacco-planters Italiaander and Cohen
It is the Cohen family who will come up for discourse on a walk through the town. Ezechiel Cohen got civil rights in 1690, together with his wife and children. Although the former mayor Brouwer was proud of having placed Amersfoort on the international map, he was not the first one doing so. Ezechiel Cohen, the tobacco-planter who moved from Amsterdam to the ‘Muurhuizen', had done so before. He had many kids, who practically all stayed alive, something extra-ordinary at that time. The daughters he matched to the large trade-houses of Europe, an act that guaranteed them a good and secure future. His sent his sons to Arnhem, to Nijmegen, to Nijkerk and to Amsterdam and he also kept a few in Amersfoort. Not only that the tobacco-trade stayed in their hands that way, but the Cohens contributed to the development and the welfare of the Jewish communities in all those places. In the end Ezechiel returned to Amsterdam. His son Jonas would be the only one of the big Cohens, who is buried here, close to his brother in law, Abraham Italiaander, who was a great tobacco-trader as well. Both families are by inter-marriages closely related one to another.
Abraham Italiaander, assisted by his father bought on May 15 1726 the premises ‘Breestraat 76', to store tobacco. Less than 20 years later he sold the premises to his brother in law, Jonas Cohen. Since then it functions as a ware-house. Jonas himself lived in a rented house at the corner of the ‘Kamperbinnenpoort' and the ‘Muurhuizen', now ‘Kamperbinnenpoort no 2' at the rent of ƒ108 a year.
After the death of Jonas, Breestraat 76 came into the hands of his son Benjamin. When Benjamin died in 1800 in Amsterdam, the premises went over into other hands again, as his son Abraham, grandson of Jonas Daniel Meijer and his son –in- law Levy Oppenheim sold them to the trader in grains Otto de Vries, who was neither family nor Jewish. But in 1904 the warehouse came into Jewish hands again; first the premises were bought by Abraham Herschel and in less than a month the Jewish salesman Jonas van Vollenhoven became the owner. Then we do not find Jewish buyers anymore and in the end the premises became a part of Museum Flehite.
But also in the ‘St. Aegten-chapel’ tobacco of the Italiaanders was stored namely of the first Italiaanders who came from Amsterdam to Amersfoort, Isaac and Benjamin. They had rented it in 1724 for the sum of 60 guilders and at the other side of this medieval chapel at ‘t Zand 44', then nr. 10, the warehouse 'de Tabaksplant' in use by Abraham Italiaander was situated.
In Amerfoort more premises had the name 'Tabaksplant'
We go back to the Cohen family. Jonas had ordered to construct the so-called country-house ‘de Vinkenhoef' in Hoogland, where Cohen marriages were held and famous Cohen children were born. At the ‘Vinkenhoef' (vink = finch) finches were caught, maybe because Jews are allowed to eat finches, but not when they are shot. Both Jonas, as well as his son Benjamin used to entertain many guests.
Son Benjamin was born in 1725. He became the most famous of all the Cohens. A lot of what he owned can be found in Amersfoort and then particularly the ‘House with the purple windows' at the ‘Zuidsingel' But also the two characteristic little houses in front of the synagogue at the ‘Kortegracht', which he donated to the Jewish community in 1780. One of them became a study-house and would remain so till our time. Much later the physician Isaac Weijl gave lessons in Jewish learning every evening. Except for being a physician, he was also the first Jew in the Netherlands who became a member of the town-council in Amersfoort. He helped the Jewish community as well with the risks of the emancipation.
Another important family, the Herschels
The great figures of the first days, the Italiaander and Cohen families have disappeared from the street-scene, but another, a bit less richer but prominent family has stayed and lived in Amersfoort until after the second World-war, namely the Herschel family.
As the old cemetery at the ‘Bloemendalse Poort' has not been cleared and the gravestones are in most cases well legible, we can find the stone from 1809, bearing the name of Abraham Herschel. He was called Messerits as well, after the place he came from. He remained known as the administrator of Benjamin Cohen, whose affairs he handled, especially in connection with stadholder William V and his energetic wife Wilhelmina of Prussia. Besides that, he was a teacher and rabbi of the community and tobacco trader as well.
His son Eleazar was wholesale dealer in tobacco, and he took care of the sale of the house ‘Rommelenburg', which was owned by the son of Benjamin Cohen, Ezechiel. This house must have been just as impressive as the now still existing premises at the ‘Zuidsingel' and ‘Westsingel'. It stood at the beginning of the ‘Kortegracht', opposite ‘Tinnenburg', where in the past the Italiaander family lived.
Eleazar Herschel married the daughter of Jacob Abraham van Gelder who is involved in the social care of the Jewish community. In the Netherlands, totally dominated by sectarianism, each religion had to take care of its own poor and Jacob van Gelder left a sum of ƒ80.000 after his death in 1877 as a starting capital for the building of a Jewish home for the elderly. He even had already given it a name: Mischenis Zikeinim de Jangcoph (the right name is probably “Mishkenot Zekenim de Jacob”) - living quarters of Jacob for the elderly- as he had the view that many would follow him with gifts. His believe was so b, that he even had planned a home for orphans with the money that was left, Newei Jangcoph legadlei Jethomim (home of Jacob for the education of orphans)
The Herschels remained closely attached to the Jacob Abraham van Gelder foundation, which still exists and which purpose is to render financial support-, if necessary- for social welfare .
One of these generous donors that Jacob had put his eyes on, could have been Meijer Salomon Abrahamson, who financed in 1873, a large part of the cemetery at the ‘Soesterweg', because the Bloemendalse Poort was full. But unfortunately for the community, because of a conflict, he gave ƒ80.000 to the poor of Palestine, as the Holy Land was called at that time.
Unexpectedly the author of this article herself received a letter from a great-great grandson of a certain Elisabeth Aronson, who was married to a hatter from London. Apparently this business had provided so much money, that Elisabeth in her legacy had stipulated, that the grave-stones of her family at the ‘Bloemendalse Poort' should be put in order and she also very generously remembered the poor widows of Amersfoort.
Jewry carries social care high in its banners. In Amersfoort the Jewish community started with a “”box-physician” who got paid from this box. In the minutes-book which was lost in the Second World War, one could read in the Yiddish language: ‘dat geresolfiert geworren ist, das rebbe Youel roufe soll sein roufe for die selbige, die fon Kahl pretendieren Ihne zu bedienen', or freely translated: it has been decided that rebbe Jouel, physician, will act as such for those who on account of the community-funds want medical help. Of course Dr. Youel did not have to give his services free. We learn from the above-mentioned minutes that for this medical help, which included medicine, he was paid out of the income of the community. This consisted of money collected for matses, slaughter , house rent, distribution of candles and loulof, dues imposed upon the Jewish community for these kinds of services. Matses are given in the Pesach-holiday, which is in spring and with the loulaf, the bunch of plants, thanks are given to G'd after the bringing of the last harvest in the autumn.
A peculiar way of care for the poor was the system of ‘flattening banknotes'. One could give to the tsedaka- charity- by buying these bank-notes from the parnassim, the community-leaders. They were a kind of gift-coupons, which were given to the poor who passed through and who could buy food and/or achieve accommodation with them.
Homes for passers-by and beggars
We go back in time again. On March 10, 1738 the Magistrate decides that no accommodation may be given to strange ‘smouses', unless behind the wall.
On June 19, 1741 it was forbidden by the governors of Amersfoort to give shelter to poor Jewish travelers and passers-by, under offense of a fine of ƒ25.
But Gerrit Samuelse did get permission to have passers- by sleep over night. Sibilla Hartog, a widow who lived in the ‘Utrechtse Poort', wanted to increase her income as well, but was not considered eligible. Salomon Gerson Cohen did get permission, however, because his father, who had just passed away, had already given lodgings. He was allowed to spread beds for traveling Jews thus giving them lodging for a while.
Because of all these rules, it was a relief for the Jewish community, when it was allowed to arrange special houses for ‘passers-by and beggars' in the ‘Valkestraat' and the ‘Drieringensteeg'.
While travelling through on his way from Frankfurt on Main in February 1761, a certain Abraham, treasurer of this German-Jewish community, died, and he was buried in the cemetery ‘Bloemendalse Poort'. Apparently he was an important man, as he even got a grave-stone there.
Less generosity was bestowed upon another passing rabbi, who in September 1735 was accompanied to his hotel by a crowd of Jews. This El'azar Brody was only passing through on his way from Poland to Amsterdam. Outwardly it seemed that the town-council gave him much honor by placing two guards in front of the hotel, but by checking more thoroughly in the archive, it appears that something else was going on.
The governors of Amersfoort wrote two letters, in which they requested the newspapers of Amsterdam and Haarlem to publish a rectification. These papers wrote on the 17th of September that the town -council had ordered two guards to be placed in front of the hotel of the rabbi of Broda, and that he, while leaving the town, was accompanied by an escort. Because of the angry reaction of the Magistrate after these news-messages, one could consider the guards, as well as the escort, as a sign of suspicion. The Magistrate rejects the charges by saying that the commanding officer had done this on his own initiative.
Suspicion, but now with a good reason, arises when Franciscus Marcus asks for a permit to come and live here again. It appears that he was born in Amersfoort. After a two-years stay in Zwolle he is exiled, and he returns to his place of birth, Amersfoort. Of course the town-council wants to know the reason for his exile.
From a letter which the magistrate of Zwolle writes, it is evident that this Franciscus, together with three other Jews, cheated a farmer from Campen, for which he has served two years in prison in Zwolle. The town-council of Amersfoort does not put all the blame on him, as he did not perform this crime alone, but he has to leave the town within a short time.
What a certain Mozes Hertog and his mother have done wrong on June 20, 1735, must be so bad, that they had to leave their home in the Valkestraat and the town immediately within 24 hours.
All this does not have anything to do with hate for Jews as we see in the permission of dancing at weddings. As long as this takes place in some tavern on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and not in the near surroundings of a church or the town-house, the Magistrate permits it. Whether everybody could allow himself the renting of a tavern and musicians is another question. Actually the many notes of insolvency at registrations for weddings are the answer to this.
Notes of insolvency
To give an idea of the substantial situation of the Jews in 1860, I found that most of the 446 Jews were mainly small and very small salesmen. It remains a riddle how the many butchers, hatters and tailors could make a living. In 1901, 66 of the 370 Jews were dependent on support.
During the cholera- epidemic of 1866 the following supplies were given to the non-wealthy fellow-believers: 1038 half Dutch-pounds meat, (a Dutch pound is about 510 gr.) 684 ditto rice, 2500 (or 250? -editor) ditto bread, 3 bales of seaweed, 52 shirts, 29 pillows, 22 mattresses, 23 blankets, 10 sheets, different clothes, even chalk, etc. etc. and the costs of this reached a total of ƒ 600.
It is striking that witnesses at marriages are mostly Jews and often family-members of the couple, but at births we see many non-Jewish witnesses, often colleague- salesmen, who earn a small sum by doing so, as most of the people were poor.
Death in the years 1812-1873 is registered by vergers of the Jewish community, father and son Levites, who also circumcise eight-day old boys. They are very capable mohalim, circumcisers, as I never met a mentioning of a boy who died after his brith mila, his circumcision. The death-toll of children was high, like the victims of epidemics.
But wealthy or poor; the Jews of Amersfoort are put to eternal rest side by side in the same death-clothes and the same simple wooden coffins at the ‘Bloemendalse Poort' and after 1873 behind the characteristic small house at the ‘Soesterweg' which now from spring till fall shows a large flower wealth. There is already a 4th generation of Hemmers-women graveyard keepers watching over it, of whom the second one, Gerritje, even celebrated her 65th anniversary. At her 60th anniversary she received a silver medal of honor, connected to the ‘Order of Orange Nassau', but of much greater value were the words of the then time minister, who called her a living archive, to whom no computer could match. And at that time the computers were still as big as a room and would never have fit in her small house.
The cemetery at the ‘Soesterweg' is probably one of the first projects designed, by the in 1871 appointed town-architect, W.H.Kan
The Schaap-family produces the first chief-rabbi of Amersfoort (schaap = sheep)
On many grave-stones in the cemetery in the Bloemendalse Poort as well as in the Soesterweg the family name Schaap has been chiseled, although the members of this family often lived elsewhere. Most of the Schaapfamilies (Sheep) of Amersfoort lived in the ‘Langestraat'.
Ancestor-mother Dina Isaacs married Levy Mozes Schaap, who died in 1803.
Dina's third child was called Clara who married Hartog Abrahams, a salesman, who later took on the name Herschel, which was so well-known in town. Dina's four sons were all doing well, they handled in drapery. They stayed with their family around Mother's ‘kugel', a kind of Jewish bakery. From the population of Amersfoort they all got a nick-name, to distinguish between them: Joseph was called ‘Sheep under the lamb' as above the window of his shop, ‘Langestraat 89' was the picture of a lamb. His daughter Dina was called ‘Dina under the lamb' to distinguish her from her cousins with the same name. To reach son Benjamin the customers had to climb a few stairs to enter his shop at Langestraat 42 and that's why he was called ‘Sheep in the steps'. Son Hijman lived in the Langestraat 36 under the sign ‘Sheep in the shepherd'. The eldest son, Mozes was the regular ‘Sheep'. What did Benjamin, the son of Mozes Schaap, thus the regular sheep of Amersfoort, do for a living? To begin with he bought a house in the ‘Langestraat' for ƒ 1750 and he was the first collector for the ‘chartered society of lottery in Utrecht'. Later he became the collector for the State-lottery, together with his son Raphael. Besides the lottery, they had a stockbroker business as well. The firm lost a lot of money, when during the Spanish war of 1834-1840, the Spanish stocks went down. The family had to sell all its gold and silver to pay the creditors.
After this bad experience, his son Raphael started a wine business with his brother Levi, who was called Leib. In more than hundred years a lot had changed for the Jews. In 1724 it was thoroughly declared in a document, that Jews could not be members in the craft-guild of the wine-traders. And now it was clearly written on the wax-stamp with which the bottles were closed: “Schaap and brothers, salesmen in kosher wine”. But the wine-business knew difficulties as well. Besides that, Levi did not enjoy the wine-business; he preferred to become a rabbi. Luckily this wish was honored. He studied at the Dutch Jewish Seminar in Amsterdam, which still exists, and he continued his studies abroad.
After some wandering about, he was installed by Chief-rabbi Aron Mendez Chumaceiro on the 5th of May 1848, as chief-rabbi in the jurisdiction of Amersfoort, which meant that he was also responsible for Utrecht, Maarssen, Uithoorn, Vreeland, Wijk bij Duurstede, Rhenen en Veenendaal. The Jewish community of Utrecht was much smaller than that of Amersfoort, also because Jews were allowed there only much later.
Hester Schaap, the oldest daughter of arch-father Levi Mozes, belonged with her husband, Hartog Jacobs to the first Jews who were allowed to settle in Utrecht. That must have been before 1779.
Chief-rabbi Levi Benjamin Schaap was tolerant, and he succeeded in connecting Jewish religion to general culture. He belonged to the first ones who held their sermons in Dutch. He had many friends among the orthodox as well as the liberal community members. A year after his commission as chief-rabbi he married the nine years younger Sophia Norden. In the year 1859, when his wife was pregnant with their eighth child, this loved rabbi passed away of scarlet fever. He has been immortalized by the painter Josef Israels.
14 years after his death, the earlier mentioned chief-rabbi Aron Mendez Chumaceiro settled here with his second wife Sara Vaz Dias. The reason is not clear. It may be that he was installed in the synagogue at the ‘Kortegracht', which existed between 1867 and 1877, as he stayed here from 1871 until 1875. Even a son was born to him here.
Chief-rabbi Jonas Daniel Wijnkoop (1842-1910)
For more than hundred years, from 1813 till June 24, 1917 there was a chief synagogue in Amersfoort after which Utrecht took over this function. Having the chief-synagogue, Amersfoort had the right and the honor to house a chief rabbi, these
functionaries came and went one after the other . Therefore they started quickly to look for a new functionary, who was only found in 1902 in the person of the linguistic and bible-explainer Jonas Daniel (Joseph David) Wijnkoop. In addition to his chief-rabbinate he was also private teacher at the University of Amsterdam and author of different studies in several languages.
But the Jewish leaders in Amsterdam were not happy with his combined function of being chief rabbi of Amersfoort and his being a teacher at the Dutch Jewish Seminar, and they forced him to choose. His choice became negative for Amersfoort. Altogether he had been there for only a year and a half and the difficult task of chief leader was again put on the shoulders of the aged Reb (rabbi) Chajim Hurwitz, who had been from his 20th year the support and trust of the community.
J.D.Wijnkoop was the father of David Wijnkoop who was for years a member of the Amsterdam City council and who (he) sat for the CPN in parliament.
Reb Chajim Hurwitz
Reb Chajim Hurwitz was a particularly colorful character, although he was always dressed in black. He came from Bellinowitz, in Russian Poland, and he had come to Amersfoort at a very young age. He led the community for more than 60 years. He had a son, Jacob, who at the age of 24 wanted to marry Sara Bakker. Reb Chajim bly disagreed and did not give his approval. Although the community respected him, they stood as a wall around the young man. In the Townhall we see the delegation show up: Raphael Schaap, delegate of the first class States-lottery; Mozes de Zoete, hatter; Gerrit van Gelder, tobacco-salesman and even chanter Soesman van Itallie.
The couple Hurwitz had four children who all stayed alive.
For those children and the children de Vries and the children of baker Snatager and those of the tailors Lombard and van Duuren, of the butchers van der Sluis, van Gelder and van Beek from Nijkerk there were two schools in 1836: one for paying children and one for non-paying children. General and religious education was taught in both schools. And if we think that only present newspapers publish letters, nothing is less true. In 1866 appears a published letter in the national Jewish press, about the miserable condition of Jewish education in Amersfoort. ”The children know nothing; learn nothing, not even a trade. At their parents' home they live from begging and when they go and start their own family, this begging has become a habit, and they walk with the beggar's bag”. And whose fault is that – of the teacher and the council for the poor, who keep supporting them financially.
For weeks on end a discussion is going on, about the qualities of the teacher Abraham Jacob Klasser. Satisfied former-pupils interfere. A good teacher, who gets bad pay and has to put up a trade in trinkets to keep going, cannot dedicate himself to education!
But he did a lot better than Awrohom Hagenau who in the 18th century taught children Torah and Jewish morality. He got for his slavery only ƒ 8 a month. Apparently they wanted to keep him, as his salary was raised a few years later with 100%. There were quite a few school-keepers here in the beginning, but the surname de Vries has remained alive as such in Amersfoort's Jewish history, in this connotation.
In 1913 Jacob van Dam was appointed here as minister and teacher. He has served the community faithfully till his deportation in 1943. While decorating her house at the Schimmelpennickstreet a few years ago Rita Hunink found a love-letter of him. She contacted his daughter, who had, in contrast to her parents, survived the war, and had ended up with her family in America. She came personally to accept the letter, and she was a guest of honor at the presentation of the book about the Schimmelpenninck-area.
As much as the Jews were integrated, they could not be members of the ‘Society for Benefit of All', as this society rested on Christian bases. That's why in 1849 a separate Society for benefit of Jews was founded. On December 26, 1869 a department was put up in Amersfoort as well.
Of a different meaning, but still a sign of complete Dutch citizenship, is the appointment to ‘Purveyor to the Royal Household' of the Jewish butcher from Baarn, Meijer Meijers by His Royal Highness Prince Hendrik, the Sailor. The Jewish community was very proud and a lot was written about it in the Jewish press. That was in 1866. Five years later this honor was bestowed on the book- and art-salesman in Amersfoort, Philip Meijers.
Because Abraham Herschel was a member of the freemason-loge ‘Jacob van Campen', we know that Jews were welcome there, and so they were at the society ‘Amicitia', where the same Herschel was the secretary. This Abraham Herschel, who lived from 1824 till 1929, was besides being a member of the town-council, also member of the governors of Public Housing and president-commissioner of the then existing streetcar-association of Amersfoort. Particular is, that he was knight of the civilian order of Jesus Christ of Portugal. This decoration he got for his services in connection with the tobacco-regime. In the years of World War I (1914-1918) he was a member of the State-distribution-committee for tobacco as well.
When you leave Amersfoort through the ‘Ring and Hogeweg', direction Hoevelaken, you pass just behind the viaduct at the right side a gentleman-farm with the name ‘Maxhoeve'. This was once property of Abraham Herschel and it was designed at the turn of the century by H. Kroes. He also designed in 1904 the warehouse ‘Grote Koppel' for the Jewish firm J. van Vollenhoven, department Colonial Wares. The goods were delivered by ship via the then so called ‘Zuiderzee’ and the river Eem.
The ‘chewre-room' takes a central place in a Jewish community. ‘Chewre's' are brotherhoods and sisterhoods, of which several of them act within a Jewish community.
In years past, the community looked much livelier, with next to the Talmud Torah, the study of the Torah, the chevre Bikur Cholim for visiting sick people, which is presently done individually, Tif’èret Nashim, in which women were busy with social work, tsedaka-charity, taking care of poor community-members, chewre Klei Kodesh, the society for women, founded in 1911, which were occupied with the maintenance and reparation of holy Synagogue-items, like reparation of Torah-coats.
A chewre which still exists is the chewre kedishe, which is engaged in taking terminal care, looking after the dead and preparing the funeral.
But also to relaxation attention was paid.
In 1913 ‘Chizuk Emuna was founded for teaching young people; courses, recitals and lectures were held, ‘to evoke and develop Jewish science, Jewish thought and life in the young hearts of youthful Israel in Amersfoort, as the advertising prospectus announces.
Minister M. Zadoks and teacher J. van Dam take on themselves the management and in 1923 the ten years existence is celebrated.
In 1917 the theatre-company ‘New Life' is founded as well as the ‘Society Jewish Military Home' and in 1927 the society ‘Benefit and Pleasure', in Hebrew Toungeles wesimcho'. The whole Jewish community was members and Phili Rintel, probably still remembered by older people from Amersfoort was the chairman till 1941. After the war it was Phili Rintel who put in all his energy for the rebuilding of the Jewish community in Amersfoort, in which he succeeded splendidly.
The celebrations and theatre-plays were usually held in ‘de Valk' and lectures in the building ‘Concordia' in the Langestraat.
Because the government did not want to appoint an army-rabbi, ‘Benefit and Pleasure' took on themselves in 1939 the organization of supplying kosher food and finding a guest-family for the many Jewish soldiers, who were serving in and around Amersfoort so they would be able on Shabbat to relax in the atmosphere of a rest-day and to participate at the service in the synagogue. The Jewish military home stood at ‘de Kamp' and it was Arie van Tijn who made a big effort here for. The name of his son Maurits is immortalized in the ‘M. van Tijnpad' in the Rustenburg-area, as memory to his brave conduct which he showed during the resistance. Unfortunately he was killed in 1944 in Poland.
Later on, Jewish soldiers, who wanted to eat kosher, could do this for a long time in the Sinai Centre in the ‘Laan 1914'. Now they get probably a deepfreeze meal from that centre.
Out of many newspaper-reports it is striking that many Jews have contributed a lot to the Jewish community and to general social life as well. Next to the active Herschels we find for example the surgeon and obstetrician Levi Efraim Visser, who had studied medicine in Utrecht and who celebrated on May 18, 1875 the 50 years existence of his practice. (He had studied medicine in Utrecht.) As he was more or less a pensioner physician in 1875, he took apparently in that same anniversary-year the chairmanship of the Jewish community, although soon he returned the chairmanship, but he stayed as a member of the synagogue-council and until his death, he worked for the charity-organization ‘chewre kedishe gemilut chasidim'.
He was the son of Kaatje Herschel, who had been widowed at an early age and in addition to being a saleswoman, she had to bring up eight kids as well. She was a 'feministe à la lettre', although she in all probabilities did not see it like that herself.
Levi Efraim Visser fulfilled many functions in his social life. He is mentioned as president of the civil society ‘Philharmonia'. The members of this society came together in ‘het Valkje', a very old tavern at the Valkestraat no 14, which is mentioned already in 1568. There was another society, ‘Unitas', under the leadership of J.Sinnige and its members came together in café Muller (much later named Schwemmer). J. Sinnige succeeded to convince surgeon Visser in 1882 to combine their societies into the new society ‘ Vereniging' (union, club) with now altogether 38 members. The place where they came together was miserable and in 1897, they bought the building which slowly was enlarged in such a way, that it stretched out from the ‘Valkestreet' to the ‘Stovestreet' and together with the enlargement its membership blossomed as well.
So it was no surprise that the mayor, the alderman and the secretary of the civil community-council participated in his funeral at the cemetery at the Bloemendalse Poort.
In legal matters we find solicitor Mr. Jacobus Bernardus Heijmans, born about 1781 in Nijmegen and conferred to a degree of doctor in 1811 in Leiden, after which he settled in Amersfoort as a lawyer. According to a document of 1813 he was appointed attorney by the empress-governess of France ,being apparently the oldest attorney and judge-deputy in the empire, the former mentioned function he maintained 55 years and the latter one 30 years. We read about him that he was an ex-captain at the functioning home-guard, ex-plaintiff at the council of the home-guard, curator of the Latin schools and a writing member of the head-council of Jewish affairs. He was president of the commission of Jewish public-schools commission, together with L.E. Visser, treasurer; R. Schaap, secretary; J.E. Herschel,
member, the other great figures of the Jewish community. When he died at the age of 87, he still was chairman of the Jewish community.
His mother was Abigail Cohen, from the important Cohen-family in Amersfoort.
In his young years his cousin, Godert Cohen was sent from Nijmegen to Amersfoort, to learn the book-trade at S.van Gelder and during his apprenticeship, he lived for four years in the house of Heijmans. Between these two cousins grew a longstanding friendship which remained all their lives.
Although the Cohens furthered the sale in tobacco everywhere and did well themselves, in Nijmegen it did not live up to their expectations. In the end the Cohens of Nijmegen chose for the book-business, which resulted in the end in the well-known publishing-house ‘Brothers E. & M. Cohen'. Unfortunately the war of 1940-45 also finished this publishing-house and the firm was taken over by ‘Unieboek Bussum'.
Jacob Schulman and the treasure of Amersfoort
In 1894, with the rebuilding of the house of Anna van der Heijden in the Nieuwstraat a special discovery was made, which consisted of one big and two small jars with gold- and silver coins. The big jar contained 12.800 kilograms gold coins; the two small ones had together 9.900 kilograms of silver coins; the gold coins were all undamaged, the silver ones were mostly oxidized. They called the specialist Jacob Schulman. He immediately saw that there were a few very exceptional pieces. The oldest coin was from 1504 and the youngest from 1558. So the treasure must have been hidden for about 330 years. On the 26th of February the coins were temporarily moved to the Royal Cabinet of coins, medals and engraved stones in The Hague, where they were described and on July 18, 1894, they were sold in Amsterdam.
Jacob Schulman came originally from Hilversum and his hobby was assembling coins from the then Dutch-Indies, and medals. From his hobby he made a profession. His big specialties were Eastern coins and coins from Portugal/Brazil and the rest of South-America. In 1880 he published his first catalogue of Dutch coins. His numismatics workshop was in the Langestraat (now no. 28), corner Lieve Vrouwenstraat. In 1889 he held his first coin-auction in his own name. Five years later he sold a big part of the Amersfoort coin-treasure. Because of all these activities, the place in Amersfoort became too small, and it was moved to Amsterdam in 1902, where his sons came into the business, they became notorious far beyond the Dutch borders.
An interesting detail to report is that in addition to his work Jacob Schulma was the secretary (from 1882-1883) of the archaeological society Flehite from 1882-1883.
The 200 years anniversary
The 200 years anniversary of the synagogue was celebrated in a spectacular way. The building was restored again, now under supervision of the architect from Amsterdam, Harry Elte. Biblical representations were made in stained-glass windows by the artist Willem Bogtman from Haarlem. These were seriously damaged during the Second World War and in 1949 they were restored by the artist from Amersfoort, Luigjes.
The restoration of the so mentioned golden ‘parochet', the curtain in front of the Holy Ark, was made possible in honor of the 200 years anniversary, by a gift of Queen Wilhelmina. Her namesake, Wilhelmina of Prussia, gave the synagogue in 1787 a piece of gold-brocade, to be used for a curtain. This gesture was made out of gratitude for help and protection which especially Benjamin Cohen from Amersfoort had given her and her husband. Prince William V himself offered a sum of money, of which a big chandelier for Chanuka was made, on which his name was engraved. I do not know when it disappeared, but I think that here as well we can blame the Second World War. The ‘parochet' was too delicate and too dear to stay any longer in the synagogue, and it got a steady place in the Museum Flehite, together with the portrait of the prince, who gave it to Benjamin Cohen. For years it hung in the Town-hall, after a descendant of Benjamin gave it to the community of Amersfoort.
At the celebration in 1927 the mayor, Duke of Randwijck was guest of honor, and he said how much he and his predecessors appreciated the Jewish citizens because of their devotion to the town.
The ceremony started by bringing into the celebrating synagogue 14 Torah-scrolls from the building at the opposite side, which was put down in 1865 to serve as Jewish school. At that time it must have been a very modern building, but when I in 1949 had my first Jewish lessons there, it made a gloomy impression. When I read the books of Singer in which he describes the East-European Jewry, that dark building from the Drieringensteeg comes up in my thoughts. It now is a community-building where after the synagogue-services coffee is drunk and parties connected to Jewish events are celebrated. The building is adapted to our own days, and it is pleasant to be there.
Ben Polak composes for the celebration the Jubilee cantata
I have connected my heart to the shul (synagogue)
Our shul at the Drieringensteeg
I have always found her beautiful
Without paint, yes and here and there a wipe
The floor broken, the stoves without warmth
The benches hard, but it did not matter
The Jewish cause did not suffer by it
It stands b above all.
I love you, my shul in the alley
With you wonderful glory
I love you, my shul in the alley
Now you show of with your new coat
And I would not want
You to disappear in nothing
My beautiful shul
My shul in the alley
To you I drink a toast.
Names of persons who are mentioned in the lecture with possible family-connections, dates of birth and death and professions.
Born about 1670, Amsterdam. Died 21-4-1744 Arnhem.
Buried Muiderberg (near his son), Married to Marritje Cohen.
One of the founders of the Synagogue Drieringensteeg.
Salesman in tobacco, Rabbi, parnas (head of the Jewish community).
Born about 1698, Amersfoort. Died 20-2-1780, Amersfoort.
Buried Bloemendalse Poort. Salesman in tobacco, rabbi, parnas.
Married three times, first wife Sara Benjamin Italiaander.
Their son is:
Born July/Aug. 1725, Amersfoort. Died 10-1-1800, Amsterdam.
Buried Muiderberg. Grower of tobacco, salesman, managed the pawnshop Amersfoort, banker in opportunities for Frederik of Prussia. Married three times.
First wife cousin, Eva Cohen with her son:
Born 10-10-1751/52.Amersfoort. Died 9-1-1824 Tours.
He married twice with the girl Gompertz.
Anne Jean Philippe Cohen de Vinkenhoef
Born 17-10-1781, in the summerhouse of the Cohen-family.
Well-known French literary person, who died on 6-4-1848 in Paris.
Artist in glass, Haarlem1882-1955,.
Jacob van Dam
Born 11-2-1884, Leek. Killed 26-3-1944, Auschwitz.
Married to Rosa Benima. Parents of Ferdy van der Hoek.
Minister and Secretary of the Jewish congregation, Amersfoort.
Jacob Abraham Van Gelder
Died 6-9-1877 in Amsterdam
Abraham Hartog Herschel
Born about 1717, Mesritz. Died 20-10-1809, Amersfoort.
Administrator of Benjamin Cohen, teacher, rabbi, parnas.
Married to Sprinsje (Sophia) Eleazar. Son:
Born about 1760, Amersfoort. Died 6-11-1849, Amersfoort.
Wholesaler in tobacco. Married to Mietje van Gelder.
Benjamin Eleazar Herschel
Born 3-10-1801, Amersfoort. Died 25-1-1894, Amersfoort.
Buried Bloemendalse Poort. Salesman in tobacco, member of the town-council, member of Chamber of Commerce, parnas, President of the governors of the Jacob van Gelder society.
Hartog Abraham Herschel
born about 1745, Mesritz (Poland). Died 6-9-1836, Amersfoort.
Marries Clara Schaap. He adopts the name Herschel.
Born 18-7-1769, Amersfoort. Died 21-5-1851, Amersfoort.
Married to Efraim Levi Visser.
Born 2-2-1844, Amersfoort. Died 11-7-1929, Amersfoort. Son of
Benjamin Eleazer Herschel and Naatje Schaap.
Hijman Jacob Hurwitz (Reb Chayim)
Born about 1823, Bellionitz (Poland).
Died 10-5-1905, Amersfoort. Teacher, rabbi, Parnas.
Jacobus Bernardus Heijmans
Born about 1781, Nijmegen. Died 22-11-1868.
Replacing judge and lawyer. Son of Abigail Godert Cohen and B.J. Heijmans.
Abraham Benjamin Italiaander
Born about1701, Amsterdam. Died 21-8-1761, Amersfoort.
Buried Bloemendalse Poort. Married to Anna Isaacs Italiaander.
Salesman in tobacco. Parnas.
Salesman in tobacco. Rabbi.
Daughter of Benjamin Italiaander. Wife of Jonas Cohen and mother of Benjamin Cohen.
Abraham Jacob Klasser
Born 23-5-1822, Amsterdam. Died 17-3-1886, Amersfoort.
Abraham Mozes Levits
Born 7-5-1773, Amersfoort. Died 25-8-1838, Amersfoort.
Verger of the Jewish community, butcher of kosher meat, and mohel (circumcizer).
Mozes Abraham Levits
Born April/May 1802, Amersfoort. Died 21-1-1875, Amersfoort.
William of Orange
Born 1533, Dillenburg. Murdered 1584, Delft.
Son of Duke William the Rich of Nassau and Juliana van Stolberg. He is of Lutheran believes. Inherits the title ‘Prince of Orange’ of his Uncle Rene of Chalon.
H.R.H. Prince Hendrik
is William Frederic Hendrik of Orange Nassau, nicknamed “the Sailor”.
Born 13-6-1820 in the Soestdijk-palace.
Died 13-1-1879 in Walferdange, Luxemburg. Son of King William II and Anna Palowna Romanov. Brother of King William III.
Since the death of his mother in 1865, he lived till 1879 in Soestdijk.
Born 15-3-1904, Amersfoort. Died 27-11-1983.
Journalist, Member of the board of directors of the Jewish community till his death.
Levi Benjamin Schaap
Born 20-1-1814, Amersfoort. Died 7-6-1859, Amersfoort.
First chief-rabbi in Amersfoort.
Levi Mozes Schaap
Born about 1720. Died 24-1-1803 in Amersfoort.
Born 11-4-1850, Hilversum. Died 28-2-1914, Amsterdam.
Well-known expert in coins.
Arie van Tijn
Born 16-6-1896, Amersfoort. Killed in 31-1-1944, Auschwitz.
Mauritz van Tijn
Born 22-11-1919 Amsterdam. Killed in Poland, 31-3-1944.
Office-worker. The family arrived in 21-4-1920 from Amsterdam.
Levi Efraim Visser
Born 25-7-1806 Amersfoort. Died 9-3-1900, Amersfoort.
Surgeon and obstetrician.
Jonas van Vollenhoven
Born 3-3-1849, Stompwijk. Died 12-5-1930, Amersfoort.
Isaac Michael Weijl
Born 21-7-1778, Nijmegen. Died 20-3-1855, Amersfoort.
Physician. First Dutch Jew who became a member of the town-council. Got his degree in 27-11-1798 in Leiden as physician, together with his brother Jacob who settled in Nijkerk.
He functioned as civil servant of the Registration with marriages and he performed Jewish marriages as well. He was parnas and mohel from 1805-1811.
Founders and leaders of the synagogue at the Drieringensteeg:
Abraham van Minden,
Abraham Italiaander Benjamins.
Marriages of Jonas Cohen:
I Sara Benjamin Italiaander
II Esther Philips Linneburg
III Toltze Wertheimberin
Marriages of Benjamin Cohen:
I Eva Jacob Cohen
II Kaatje (Chaile) Abraham Meijer
III Kreule Samuel Wolff
Chewre's or brother- and sisterhoods:
Bikur Cholim visiting of the sick.
Chewre kedishe terminal care, care of the dead and funeral-preparation.
Klei Kodesh maintenance and repair of Synagogue-objects, Talmud Tora study of the Tora (bible).
Tiferet Nashim women-chewre for social welfare.
Tsedaka care of the poor.
Chizuk Emuna promoting Jewish knowledge, founded 1913.
Association for the benefit of the Jews promoting Jewish and general knowledge, founded on 26-12-1869.
Company of drama "New Life" founded 1917.
Jewish military home founded 1917.
Researched, written byNechamah Mayer-Hirsch
End editor for English:Trudi Asscher
Reference: original article in Dutch