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  • The Jewish Community of Assen

    The history of a respectable kehilla, 1740-1976

    Names mentioned in this article (in the order of their appearance):

    Before the names adoption (abt.1811):
    Joel Meijer, Salomon Israels (Hiegentlich), Joseph Levie Philips , Salomon Israels of Coevorden, Israel and Annigje Rubens ( Hiegenlech, Hiegenlich and Hiegentlich), Jonas Daniel Meijer , Lazarus Mozes, Simon Isaac Steeren of Kampen, Elias Levy, Samuel Levy, Andries Levy, Joseph Nathan Jacobs , Abraham Hartog, Israel Anthony (van der Wijk), Joseph Anthony (van der Wijk), Samuel Heers.

    After the names adoption:
    Rabbi Hillesum of Meppel(Chief Rabbi), Andries Lezer, Lezer Meijer and Betje Salomons, Rachel Coenraads of Kampen, Coenraad Hartog and Grietje Mozes, Meijer Andries, Gerard Davids Cohen,Chief Rabbi Hertzveld (Zwolle), J. van Oosten, Machiel van Essen, A.H. van der Wijk, I.M. Lezer, M. Cohen, M.Levie Gzn, Chief Rabbi Van Loen, Nathan Nathans, Jacob Levy van Baren(teacher), I.A. van der Wijk, H.H. Vos,Samuel Samson Moeyon, A. Prijsig, A. Doornheim, J. Goslinski, S.J. Moscoviter, S.J. de Vries, M.M. Cohen, Salomon Boekbinder, J.S. de Vries, M.I. Cohen, David Cohen, Salomon Lezer, Isidoor Vos, H. van Staveren.

    After the Jews had wandered for many years through Europe, they among others could also be found in enthe around 1700. At first the province was a temporary refuge for many Jewish traders originating from Poland and Germany. There is not much evidence about this, except for the names 'Michiel de Jode' (Michiel the Jew) and 'Jacob de Jode' (Jacob the Jew).
    There is some evidence of Jewish communities in larger towns like Coevorden, Hasselt and Meppel – in the 17th century real Jewish settlements existed only outside the province of Drenthe. During the 18th century all kinds of restrictions were imposed upon the Jews, which could not be carried out as the towns in Drenthe were not walled in and therefore they could not easily be checked. The opposition of the population was not so much turned against the Jews as against the idea that Jews in a large group would be detrimental to the town and its trading inhabitants. The general trend was not one of hate but indeed one of suspicion and mistrust. There was, nevertheless, a certain measure of acceptance of the residing Jews, who adapted themselves as to clothing and language. – The mistrust was more directed to the passing travelers; "smouches", who usually did not speak Dutch and were often dressed in a peculiar way.

    Jews usually formed small religious communities in many locations. These communities established a small primitive synagogue and offered some assistance in case of sickness or death. Hoogeveen, Meppel, Coevorden and Dwingeloo already had a synagogue before 1800. The kehiloth were completely independent in those years , they were managed by parnassim (usually well-to-do Jews). Only in 1808 an umbrella was formed which would limit the power of the local managers. In the small communities there existed the problem of the minyan', so small groups of Jews would walk on Shabbat to other villages in order to attend synagogue services. Therefore, the Jews of Gees, Sleen, Aalden and Meppel made it known in 1795: "because eight families had for a long time been going to church in Dalen, which due to the long distance was difficult, it was decided to hold the religious services in the future in Gees". It was of great importance that no persons would drop out of these small groups, therefore fines were imposed on those who did not honor their obligations. The group of Jews in Drouwen who decided in 1804 to establish a "Jewish Church" in the farm of Joel Meijer, included in the regulations the obligation that some members had to bring a guest to the service. The fine for coming without a guest was 1 guilder, which was quite steep. The Jews of Assen and Rolde stipulated in their rules in 1809 that whoever did not allow a prayer service to be held in his home, also had to pay 1 guilder. Jews in the small enclaves, who were better off, sometimes employed a traveling Jewish teacher at their own expense. In 1786 Salomon Israels (Hiegentlich) employed Joseph Levie Philips to teach Jewish religion lessons to his children in his home in Assen. The number of Jews in Drenthe in 1800 grew to about 700 of which about 400 lived in Hoogeveen, Coevorden and Meppel. The community of Assen was not a very large one with 56 members in 1811, but during the course of the century it would develop into the second most important Jewish community in the province.

    Jews in Assen before 1800
    In 1776 the people of Assen were afraid that residence of Jews in their town would cause problems. They feared the arrival of beggars, vagabonds and the like. The inhabitants requested that the local authorities provide an inhabitant's permit to one family only. In 1848, about 70 years after this request the governor of Drenthe at that time was invited to be present at the exams of the Israelite youth of Drenthe, held in the Jewish school, a prove that things had changed materially since then.

    Still, during the early years relations between Jewish and non-Jewish inhabitants of Assen were not bad and the keeper of the archives of the province, Magnin, praised in 1855 the relations between the two groups, writing: "in all aspects (the Jews) were treated equally".

    In contrast with commercial towns like Coevorden and Meppel, it was only halfway through the 1800 century that a family settled in Assen; 'the Jew Meier', in 1742. We only know that he had a business in a small house in Assen. In 1762 it seems that he had neglected the upkeep of this house. The Bailiff and County Council ordered him – upon punishment of confiscation - to repair his property by covering it with panes. Magnin mentions also that Meier died at the age of 92. This must have been before 1789 because from that year on he was not mentioned anymore. Meier was probably buried in the Jewish cemetery, which upon his own request, was put at the disposal of the Jews of Assen after 1778. In that year the Bailiff and County Council ordered clerk Hofstede to allocate a parcel of land in the so-called Twijfel 'which would be made suitable and fenced in for this purpose at the expense of either the petitioner or the Jewish community'. This cemetery is in use till this day and has been enlarged from time to time.

    The direct result of the above mentioned request of the inhabitants in 1776 was the request of Salomon Israels of Coevorden to settle in Assen, because in Coevorden the Jewish community had grown and trading opportunities did not increase. He promised not to cause financial harm, either to the Christian tradesmen or to the old Jew Meier. He traded in cloths, linen, Frisian prints and silk materials, items which until that time apparently were not marketed in Assen. He assured the authorities of good conduct and to have been born from well-known and honest parents. Salomon Israels was born in Heemse, Overijssel in 1740. His parents Israel and Annigje Rubens had four sons, all of whom later, in 1812, chose a different family name, his being Hiegenlech, later changed into Hiegenlich and Hiegentlich. The family Hiegentlich played an important role in the Jewish community of Assen. In 1798 Salomon de Joode who was then 60 years old, was mentioned as being a butcher, living in Assen. Mozes de Joode is also mentioned, with the same occupation. Until the expiry of the settlement resolution , apperantly granted for a limited period, there were no more that three Jewish families in Assen. Slowly more Jewish families settled in Assen which after some years would officially become a city.

    In 1832 the number of persons living in Assen amounted to 1886 of whom 99 were Jews. These numbers grew steadily leading to the blossoming and expansion of trade and industry, which was essential for a growing Jewish community.

    Changes since the Batavian-French period
    The history of the kehila of Assen really starts when legal equality was bestowed upon the Jews in 1796. From then on Jews could settle wherever they wished. In the nineteenth century Jews became Dutch citizens of Israelite religion – the word 'Jew' was considered a term of abuse and therefore the more 'decent/politically correct' word 'Israelite' was chosen

    The social position of the Jews changed and Jewry in the Mediene (smaller towns, outside Amsterdam) would blossom because of the new liberties. In 1808 King Louis Napoleon decided to establish the so-called Upper Consistory, which, under the chairmanship of Jonas Daniel Meijer would supervise (and be responsible for) all Ashkenazi Jewish communities. They would supervise the communities regarding -among others- the regulations and the appointments of Rabbis and boards of synagogues. In Meppel the so-called church consistory was appointed, to the great fury of the Jews of Zwolle, including all Jews in Drenthe as well as those of the Groningen peat-colonies. The organizational changes made during the French period were continued by King William I.

    After 1814 the Jews of Drenthe and those of Overijssel came under the authority of the Main Synagogue in Zwolle. The larger communities became district synagogues with the Zwolle synagogue as Main Synagogue and the smaller communities, Assen among them, became auxilliary synagogues . In 1816 the departments of the Main Synagogue were divided into districts. Because of this division Assen was among those that were designated as principal town of these districts. From that time on Assen belonged to the district of Hoogeveen. Obviously the growth and maturity of the separate communities in the 19th century came about through these imposed changes in the division of the districts. Many communities benefited from the organizational basis set up after 1808. They also had a considerable increase in membership during these years. The development of the kehila in Assen should also be considered in this light. The community grew strongly after 1800.

    The strong growth of the Jewish communities in Drenthe led to the Royal Resolution which stipulated that Drenthe could from then on organize its own Synagogue District, with a Chief Rabbi as its spiritual leader. The question where the main synagogue should be situated kept the community leaders rather busy. The Jewish community of Assen made serious efforts to persuade the minister of Culture (Public Worship) to designate their town for this purpose. However, because of the support of other communities, the town of Meppel was designated. The appointment of Rabbi Hillesum of Meppel as Chief Rabbi neither went smoothly . Relations with the communities of Drenthe and in particular Meppel could have been a lot better for a long period. The authorities slowly withdrew themselves from their leading role in religious matters. As a result of the revision of the constitution of 1848 church councils were also affected. In 1870 the more independent Central and Permanent Commissions of General Affairs for the Dutch Israelite Synagogue Council was established.

    Andries Lezer
    The arrival of family Lezer was an important boost to the Jewish community. The head of the family, Andries Lezer, was born in 1755 in Elsoff, a small village near Bad Berleburg in the county of Wittgenstein. His parents were Lezer Meijer and Betje Salomons. Andries Lezer married Rachel Coenraads of Kampen,daughter of Coenraad Hartog and Grietje Mozes. The couple had three daughters and five sons. Andries Lezer arrived with several family members in Assen either in 1784 or in 1785. At first he rented a home but in 1790 he bought a house situated near the Vaart, which he refurbished and made suitable to conduct the business. He traded in spectacles of which was a need already at that time . The name 'Lezer' did not originate from the profession of Andries; the name probably originated from Eliezer or perhaps 'lezer in de Leer', meaning "Reader of the Law".A number of peddlers, among them quite a few Jews, travelled around with these spectacles and tried to trump each other with words and deeds. Andries Lezer advertised the following in the Groninger Courant in 1788: 'Andries Lezer of Assen well-known inventor and polisher of "kittelstenen (sealing stones). Spectacles which can be used by everyone, young and old; they increase sight and people only need one piece during their lifetime. He recommends himself therefore to all and promises not only to sell the best spectacles but also at the best price; he is lodging with Lazarus Mozes on the Schoolholm and stays until June 26th in Groningen'.Lezer did not invent the "kittelstenen" spectacles. About one year earlier Simon Isaac Steeren of Kampen presented himself as the inventor and there were even more.

    In 1823 Lezer announced that he would undertake his usual spring journey to the west of Holland. He went by dog-cart. In 1822 he had the bad luck that his own dog was bitten by a mad dog. The trade in glasses/spectacles turned out to be a lucrative business and during the course of time Lezer worked himself up to become a reasonably well-to-do member of the middle class. After his demise in 1828 the business in glasses was continued by his son Meijer Andries, who also had a shop with hawking articles. He was also a butcher and took care of poor-relief and was treasurer of the Jewish community.

    Organization and management
    Andries Lezer played an important and stimulating role within the Jewish community of Assen, which at first this was not yet an officially organized community. A synagogue service was nevertheless organized. According to a document dated 1791 Andries Lezer rented "the Book Mozes with two garments" from school teacher Elias Levy. This is probably the beginning of Jewish services in Assen. The beginning of the small community was troubled and everything but peaceful. Sheep trader Samuel Levy was partly to blame for this as he seems to have been of a quick-tempered nature. Thus Andries Levy once got knocked on his head. During that same year (1802) Samuel himself had to flee from the market in order not to get beaten up. In 1806 disagreement within the Jewish community flared up sharply. There was disagreement between Joseph Nathan Jacobs and Samuel Levy, between Abraham Hartog and Samuel Levy and between Israel Anthony (van der Wijk) and his brother Joseph (and this on the Day of Atonement!). Against the background of this situation one should realize # that in this small community there existed great commercial competition. The economic restrictions on Jews led them to do ambulatory business and adher to professions connected to their specific religious rules, like the profession of butchery. Usually they limited themselves to occupations that were not tied to certain places or areas. The miserable conditions of many Jews were a direct result of the one-sided structure of their professions/trade. Very often sons took over the occupations of their fathers. Of course, this tendency was strengthened by the knowledge and skill which they had acquired over the years. The one-sided structure of their professions became obvious from the taxes which businessmen had to pay in 1811 (mostly tradesmen and/or butchers). This fierce competition led to tensions within the Jewish group, which among others became evident during services. Very often these conflicts were submitted to a higher impartial authority, like the Chief Consistory or the Central Commission.
    In the 18th century it was already usually the norm and not the exception that Jews from well-to-do circles controlled the management of the Kehillot. This was the same in Drenthe. In Coevorden, as well as in Meppel and Hoogeveen we often encounter before 1800 the same names in different committees. During the following century more rights were accorded to the better off than to those who were not so well off, through the Regulation for Jewish Communities of 1816. In Assen this concerned Andries Lezer and Israel Anthony van der Wijk. Until halfway through the nineteenth century problems in Assen would be referred to the 'family management' of this period. Only at that time were the old elitist and somewhat authoritarian managers definitely shoved aside. This was also influenced during those years by the conflict between the reformed and traditional minded. The old elite remained, after all, in the camp of the latter and this caused lots of problems in Assen. Andries Lezer himself paid among others the salary of a home teacher in Hebrew; in 1798 that was for Samuel Heers. In 1809 he still kept a home teacher. In that same year talks started about creating regulations for the kehilla Assen, probably the first time ever. It was mainly aimed at the maintenance of the kehilla. There were not enough funds to pay for a synagogue or a teacher. In 1808 not enough was collected in order to start building a synagogue. However, the Jewish community was recognized by the B. and W. -the City Council- of Assen. The unfavourable situation came to light in 1808 in letters to the Chief Consistory. It turned out that the community asked for assistance in order to enable them to build a proper synagogue. The letters were written by Israel van der Wijk who apparently had mastered the Dutch language, this in contrast to Lezer. Van der Wijk also paid the highest amount of tax in the community.

    The Manhigim (leaders)
    Between 1813 and 1818 several different sites were used as a synagogue. According to the Regulation for the Israelite Church Society, registered members chose the Manhigim, members of the board. Each kehilla of a certain size had to be be governed by two Manhigim, one as supervisor, the other one as treasurer. Very often an elderling also sat on the board. Manhigim had to be older than 19 years and had to have command of the Dutch language; rabbis had to be able to read , write and speak it. The shamash (sexton) had to know how to write and read Dutch while the chazzan (precentor) only had to be able to read it. The Jewish presence was emphasized by the regulations, which demanded that each kehilla had to strive to possess its own cemetery and if possible its own school.

    Through the following years there was a lot of friction inside the community. During the twenties the church master Gerard Davids Cohen, one of the richest inhabitants of the town, tried to bring some order in the organization of the synagogue. In 1821 he was chosen Manhig-treasurer.

    An official synagogue
    Around the year 1820 the Jewish community of Assen had grown to such an extent that the possibility of a new synagogue was again considered. The City Council of Assen received a letter in February 1826 in which the Jewish community requested permission to buy a small parcel of land near the Singel in order to build a synagogue on it. It was decided to hand over this parcel of land on condition of approval by the King. However, because of delays this subject was only dealt with again in 1830. This time it concerned a lot on a corner of Stadsbos at the Western side of Beilerweg, between Torenlaan and the exit from the wood to the Singel. The front and main entrance were to be on Beilerweg. A collection was going to be held for the building of the synagogue. However, there was another hitch; the lot at Beilerweg turned out to be unsuitable. According to the building plans, the main entrance would not be directed towards the east. This was against Jewish regulations. In 1832 a small lot at Groningerweg was put at the disposal of the Jewish community. It took some doing, but in the end building of the synagogue could take place unhindered. During that same year the City Council received an invitation to attend the inauguration of the new synagogue. Chief Rabbi Hertzveld , in charge of the inauguration, held a speech based on Psalm 118, verse 24.

    Thus, with the new synagogue, the Jewish community received further stature within the Assen society. Some time afterwards a ritual bath and a small school were added. In 1837 attempts were made to have King William I elevate the synagogue to the status of district synagogue. This turned out to be in vain. The community had to wait another three years for this recognition.

    Disagreements in the Board
    The Manhigim in Assen had to put up with a lot of trouble caused by the visitors to the synagogue. Attempts were repeatedly made to try and have more orderly and serious services. All over the country reformers and traditionalists were quibbling about the Jewish religion. According to the reformers something had to be done against people walking to and fro, as well as the noise, during services. A silent, honorable synagogue/church, like that of the Protestants would elevate/increase the standing of the Jewish group. Chief Rabbi Hertzveld from Zwolle was a warm supporter of changes in the Netherlands. In the year of the revolution, 1848, it became clear that in many aspects the power of the old, often traditional managers was being contested. Inside the Jewish communities as well the members demanded and received more influence on their leaders. That is not to say that the old elite abandoned their power without resistance – not even in Assen. Mainly during the fifties of that century there was a lot of disagreement. Those involved (in these disputes) were J. van Oosten, Machiel van Essen, A.H. van der Wijk, G.D. Cohen, I.M. Lezer, M. Cohen. Only in 1860 there started a new period. The time of great conflicts had passed. The changes were a result of a decision by the Minister of Worship to alter the relations between High Commission and the separate communities. According to these changes, intern conflicts would from then on not be dealt with. The inhabitants would have to name their managers themselves, without intervention of the Main Synagogue or the commission. In 1862 voting of a new management did not pass as yet without incidents, but in 1864 the atmosphere was much more peaceful. Besides the management there was, as from 1865, a church council consisting of four persons and the secretary.

    A larger synagogue
    Already in 1865 the church council drew up the request to the High Commission for a larger synagogue. The improvement of services was mainly necessary because of the large expansion of the community. Already in 1849 van Oosten wrote that during Holidays some women could not find place in the synagogue, as there was only space for about 40 married women. The 50th anniversary celebration in 1882 suffered from the fact that the building was much too small. Only a few community members could attend and civilian authorities as well as representatives of other denominations could not be invited. While in 1860 there were 285 members, in 1890 their number had already almost doubled, namely 500. Permission was requested in 1892 to enlarge the school for religious education and the religious bath. M.Levie Gzn., chairman of the church council, was the main pusher of this subject.

    From 1899 onwards there appeared notices of attempts to build a larger synagogue. In March 1901 a contract was made to build the synagogue, so that there would be place for 210 men and 74 women. The inauguration took place on July 26th, 1901. Naturally, Chief Rabbi Van Loen was invited. Among others a speech was held by the chairman of the church council, N. Nathans and in the afternoon the Tora scrolls were transferred from the school building. Then, speeches were held by the Chief Rabbi and by teacher van Baren. Afterwards there was a grand celebration. Teacher Jacob Levy van Baren served the community since 1890 for thirty years. This was proof of the stable situation of the community during those years. Contrary to his predecessor, Cohen, Van Baren was not the centre of disagreements.

    In June 1926 the 25th anniversary of the synagogue was celebrated. The address of alderman Buning, during the celebrations, pointed to the good relations between Jews and non-Jews in Assen. In many respects the situation of the kehila of Assen in the 20th century was incomparable to that of around 1850. The number of Jews in Assen was now double that of 50 years earlier, religious life had become more intense. A larger synagogue, all sorts of clubs/societies, a new community building, better cooperation – all this pointed to a blossoming community. Between 1870 and 1930 Assen could certainly be termed as such.

    Financial perils
    Apart from drawing up rules of procedure the Manhigim also had to provide a budget every year. Lack of funds was a recurring problem in small communities like that of Assen. Taking care of the synagogue, the ritual bath, the poor, the Chazzan, the sexton and the teacher entailed considerable expense which had to come from private means. Around 1824 income consisted only of donations and the renting of seats. In order to cover the budget deficit it was decided to raise a yearly sum as a tax from the members of the community. This tax became more and more the cause for protests. In 1849 the churchwardens complained about the small amount that the well-to-do I.M. Lezer was willing to contribute while he was a man who owned more that 40,000 guilders as private means and during the time he was Manhig he always taxed himself for a small amount and his family always ruled together with him. '

    It became clear from the budget of 1841 that income of the community had for a large part become dependent on contributions from the members.

    The budget also showed on which items money was spent: like the chazzan, interest on mortgages and redemption of old debts. Furthermore, sums were paid to the rabbinical quota, the sexton, the oil and candles in the synagogue, repairs and pensions. 39 members yielded the sum of the contribution and they paid an average of 15 guilders each. Among those who were taxed highest we find the following names: G.D. Cohen, I.A. van der Wijk, I.M. Lezer, H.H. Vos and M.S. van Essen. In the meantime a ritual bath was built, on which the community had to pay a small rent. Several non-resident members from Rolde also contributed to the income. The rental of seats in the synagogue in 1842 caused an uproar because the male seats were thought to be too expensive.

    The ups and downs concerning the appointment of a new management in 1847 also caused disarray in the finances. The new management under the leadership of Jonas van Oosten improved this situation.

    Another source of trouble was the rabbinical quota, i.e. the contribution to the salary of the Chief Rabbi.

    Although the Jewish community of Assen never was rich, it had no financial worries after1860.

    Poor Relief
    The kehilla had several important tasks, like taking care of the religious services, education of youngsters as well as poor relief and taking care of the needy. Taking care of these needy was a great headache for the community as large sums of money were involved. After 1808 the Chief Consistory was instructed to supervise the poor relief and under William the First – the Main Committee. These organizations could not achieve much and therefore the care for the poor was carried out by the Jewish communities themselves, often with help of the management of Christian poor relief. Part of the money was acquired through collections. In this way Jews who were travelling through could be helped and this was not always easy. Sometimes when people who needed assistance left the community it was difficult to decide who would cover the cost: the original community or the "new" kehilla. Very often the funds for the poor had to be advanced by the person in charge of this fund. The general idea was that only those who really could not make ends meet could ask for assistance, whether they be Jewish, Reformed or Catholic. Other persons in need were expected to take the necessary steps to earn a living. This was a tough attitude but in view of the limited possibilities of spiritual as well as financial assistance, ample relief was not possible. As the Jewish communities grew, the amount of needy persons also became larger. In 1900, in Assen, 70 were recorded as being needy and receiving assistance. This was about 13% of the Jewish population, which was not so bad compared to other communities.

    Education and teachers
    The school for religious education , together with the synagogue, the cemeteries and the organizations belonged to the most important institutions to shape Jewish life in Assen. Around 1800 some families paid for a house teacher and later, when the community started to grow, they started considering better possibilities to teach religion in Assen. Most Jewish children went together with non-Jewish kids of the same age to the 'Dutch School'. It seems that Jewish education was undertaken for a long time by Abraham Hartog Phrijsig, who had moved to Assen a short time after the turn of the century. In 1826 we find Samuel Samson Moeyon teaching religion for 4 guilders per week. In 1830 a long procedure was started in order to find an official teacher of religion. This was done in consultation with non-Jewish authorities who found it important that Jewish children would go to Dutch schools, but who also appreciated the fact that the Jews wanted to keep their own culture. The (non-Jewish) supervisor wrote: 'it must be an oppressive thought for them that they have to send their children to a school that goes against their religious grain, "which regretfully because of ignorance is still so Talmudic".

    In 1834 the supervisor reported that a Jewish religious school had been established. However, that did not mean that there already was a proper building. In the following years there were several Jewish teachers. They were often a pivot around which Jewish community life turned, because of their knowledge of Jewish religion and their intellectual capabilities. Some of these teachers of the earlier years were Messrs. S.S. Moeyon, A. Prijsig, A. Doornheim, J. Goslinski, S.J. Moscoviter, S.J. de Vries, M.M. Cohen. The salaries of these teachers were very low, among others because the parents partly had to participate in the payment. This often caused friction. In the meantime they tried to acquire a school building that would meet their requirements. Only in 1858 did this become a reality. The new place was situated behind the synagogue. Teaching was extensive, like lessons in the Hebrew alphabet, sounds, spelling and reading; translation of the prayers, translation of the five books of Moses, translation of the prophets, explanation of the Bible as well as religious questions.

    Until 1861 religious classes were held for several hours during the day so that the children could not attend regular school. After 1861 these lessons were held not only on weekdays after the kids attended the municipal school, but also on Sundays and Christian holidays. In 1887 78 children attended the school . In 1892 the school was completely refurbished and in 1933 electricity and toilets were added, as well as a barn containing heating materials (wood, coal ) and a secretary's office.

    After 1900 there was a noticeable decline in the motivation of the pupils. An important part of the school program was the preparation for the Bar Mitzvah.

    Between 1860 and 1900 Jewish population of many large communities grew, often at the expense of the small communities. Assen, Meppel, Hoogeveen and Coevorden assumed a more important role on account of the small villages, but also as a result of growing industrialization. The same development could be observed nationwide.

    The number of families arriving from other places grew mainly during the years 1900 and 1920, there was also a natural growth of Jewish inhabitants. The many children born around 1830 were the reason for the Jewish population growth during the years 1850-1880. Jewish families in general were large. This, however, ended after 1900. Although Assen attracted many newcomers, the birth-rate decreased rapidly. In addition, many Jews went elsewhere, often to the Western part of the country because of the better economic and socio-cultural opportunities. In 1940 it was observed that: 'Also in Assen people are getting poorer. Before, people moved from villages to towns. But now there were different kinds of movements. 'The birth-rate is reduced and youths do not stay in their birthplace anymore. There are many old people in Assen'. It also seems that many Jews did not get married and the amount of mixed marriages increased.

    A mixed marriage almost always meant the end of participation in the Jewish community and religion. This was the most far-reaching form of assimilation: the complete integration into the surrounding community while leaving ones own traditions and background behind. One saw the same tendency with those who kept their Jewish identity; besides those that still attended synagogue on Shabath, there were many who only went during the High Holidays. Then there were those who went to work on Sabath and many Jewish stores were open. With each new generation the religiousness of many families became less.

    Profession, welfare and living quarters
    Salomon Boekbinder came to Assen from Borger. In Assen he found better opportunities for the development of his business, as well as better possibilities for the education of his children.

    He owned a manufacturing firm which in 1937 employed 26 persons. The firm had branches in Deventer and in Apeldoorn. Many sources point out the great humanity and philanthropy of the brothers Boekbinder. During cold winters blankets were brought to poor laborers; and their own personnel received a child benefit of 50 guilders when a baby was born.

    Other firms
    There were several shops and firms. Like, for instance, a shop for bicycles and bicycle parts, there were firms dealing in old clothes, metals, sacks and hides, shops selling curtains, antiques, as well as bakers and butchers. There also was a Jewish dance school. And then there were Jewish cattle dealers.

    Within the Jewish community there existed great differences in prosperity. There were some rich families; then there was the well-to-do middle class, the lower classes and the needy.

    Jew and non-Jew
    In 1846 the following article appeared in the Drentse en Asser Courant: "Elsewhere, as evidence of the growing religious civilization of the Israelites, it is reported in the daily newspapers that use of the Dutch language at religious practices has ever more supporters. Mr. J.S. de Vries, teacher at the local Jewish school, who also held speeches in Low German on May 2nd and 31st, as well as on August 8th, held yesterday a speech in Low German at the local synagogue in honour of the birthday of His Excellency, taken from Proverbs 24 v s 21a , demonstrating herewith which obligations the Israelites have to fulfil as Dutch citizens and as Israelites towards the King’.

    From the above quotation the position of the Dutch Jews is fairly obvious. During a synagogue service in Dutch the Jews of Assen were told of their obligations as Dutch citizens and as Jews. Although it took several years, the attempt of the authorities to encourage the integration of Jews was successful. This could not have happened if within the Jewish community the wish to adapt or to integrate had not existed. The possibilities existed since 1796 and as time went by they were better utilized. Thus, in 1851 a Jew for the first time became a member of the municipal council. After 1860 the number of Jews active in societies increased sharply.

    One condition to succeed in integrating was a certain measure of (external) adaptation. This the Jews from Drenthe did already early on. Many photographs are preserved of Jewish women with casques and men in traditional farmers' clothes. Generally, local Jews spoke the Drenthe dialect.

    One of the best proofs of integration is the Jewish participation in all kinds of non-Jewish societies. Most of the Jewish societies were of a religious nature. Only few, like the Asser Jewish youth club, were not. Jewish sports and recreation societies were hardly established in Assen or in other communities. An exception was the Jewish gymnastics society 'Kocheno' (Our Strength).

    During the middle of the 19th century, societies of a socio-cultural character came into being in Assen, as well as elsewhere. This was a result of the law of societies and meetings which came into effect in 1855. Inside the Jewish community there always existed a lively social life in which the Jews in Assen also participated . There is no proof that Jews were not welcome in non-Jewish societies. Jews also participated as members of committees for longer or shorter periods.

    Specific Jewish Societies
    A number of Jewish societies were established like burial societies and study groups. In 1853 we encounter for the first time an Israelite singing troupe. Around 1850 there appeared several theatre groups, while in 1860 a small choir came into existence. There were also societies aiming at teaching the youth, like 'Atteret nashiem', a handicraft club for girls. Other examples are: 'Rodfhei Tsedek, Ozeer Dalliem (help the poor), Chewras Nosjiem, Gmilath Gassidiem (burial society), several help organizations, a Zionist organization, Hasjahar, sports societies, and more.

    As often occurred in committees of the Jewish community, disagreements among the committee members of most of these societies were not an exception, mostly because of political considerations.

    Within the Jewish communities there existed several political preferences. A number of Jews from Assen had been appointed aldermen and town councilors. To name some of them: M.I. Cohen, David Cohen, Nathan Nathans, Salomon Lezer, Isidoor Vos, and H. van Staveren.

    Anti Semitism
    Integration is a two-sided affair (Jews and Non-Jews showing their goodwill) Most Jews endeavoured to be admitted into the local social life, but what were they looking for? No examples are known of fanatical anti- Semite's in Assen. On the whole there existed a benevolence attitude towards Jewish wishes and their objectives. Jews hardly were strangers in town and almost every Jew in Assen took part in its social life.

    The period after World War II
    The Jewish community of Assen consisted of 500 persons before the deportations and of those only 23 survived the war .Although it was difficult, the community provided them with new living quarters. Many problems were encountered concerning the administration of assets. In June 1945 the Foundation for the Care of Jewish Interests was established in Assen.

    In 1951 a commemorative monument was put up in the Jewish cemetery. After the war the synagogue was first rented out and in 1951 it was decided to sell it. As no buyer could be found the stained glass windows were donated to Kibbutz Beth Keshet in Israel – the building itself was in the end transferred to the Christian Reformed Church. There was no basis anymore for the revival of the Jewish community in Assen.

    [F.J.Hulst & H.M.Luning-De Joodse Gemeente Assen, Geschiedenis van een behoorlijke kille, 1740-1976(Asser Historische Reeks 3)
    ISBN 90-9004326-8
    Van der Veen, Assen 1993]

    Extracted from source:Yael (Lotje) Ben Lev-de Jong
    Translation from Dutch:Nina Mayer
    End editing English:Trudi Asscher
    Coordination:Ben Noach

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