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  • The Jewish community in Gorinchem

    Where Maas and Waal come together,
    And Gorkum rises afar
    There rises on the left bank
    Mirrored in the wide flow
    An age old castle!

    Hendrik Tollens 1780-1856

    The name Gorinchem, usually pronounced and written as "Gorcum" or "Gorkum," is a town and municipality in the Dutch province of Zuid-Holland. In an area of 22.01 square km. (including a watery area of 3.23 square km.) live 35.085 people
    (1 February 2012, source: CBS). Dalem is a part of the Gorinchem municipality. In the center of Gorinchem lies the well preserved fortress of the town.
    Gorinchem lies near the river Boven Merwede, with Sleeuwijk and Woudrichem on the opposite bank. The town has a railway station on the western Betuwe-line (Dordrecht-Geldermalsen).

    The first settlers
    Gorinchem was presumably founded by fishermen and farmers around the year 1000 on a somewhat higher area, near the estuary of the Linge joining the Merwede. The name "Gorinchem" means "Gorinks Heem," the home of the Goringa – the people of Goro, which was the name of a person. The place is mentioned for the first time in a document from 1224, wherein count Floris IV confirms toll exemption for the whole county of Holland.

    Between 1247 and 1267 Gorinchem and surroundings came into the possession of the Lords of Arkel. Towards the end of the 13th century walls were raised around the settlement, fortified with palisades, in order to defend itself against the neighboring states of Holland and Gelre. In the middle of the 14th century the walls were further fortified with walls of stone with seven gates and 23 towers, which now formed a real town wall.

    On 11 November 1382 Otto van Arkel granted town rights to Gorinchem. In the great fire of 1388 fifteen hundred houses - almost the whole town - were burned. In 1417 Gorinchem was annexed by the Lords of Holland. Trade blossomed and Gorinchem became the eighth town of Holland.

    On 26th June 1572, at the start of the eighty-year war, Gorinchem was freed from Spanish rule by the "geuzen" and Willem van Oranje. During the same period Gorinchem came under Protestant influence and in 1566 the first Protestant church service was held.
    Six years later, on 9th July 1572 the Calvinistic "geuzen" arrested 19 Roman-Catholic priests and lay brothers and brought them to Den Briel, where they were hanged in a barn. These victims became known as the "Martyrs of Gorkum." The Gorkum museum shows a picture of this deed.

    Towards the end of the 16th century the town walls had become very weak. They were replaced with new walls with eleven bastions. The new wall was finished in 1609, covering a much larger area than before. The town grew twice in size. This wall is almost completely intact today.
    The wall had four gates: The Arkel Gate to the North, the Dalem Gate to the East, the Watergate to the South, the departure point of the ferry to Woudrichem, and in the West the Kansel Gate. Only the Dalem Gate has been preserved. The other three gates were demolished in the 19th century, to make place for the growing traffic. A part of the Watergate has been preserved and reconstructed and is exposed in the garden of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. In 1673 Gorinchem became part of the Dutch Water Defense Line.
    After the prosperous 17th century, the so called Gouden Eeuw (Golden Age), came a backlash. At the end of the French conquest the town was heavily damaged by artillery fire, when the retreating French army, which had entrenched themselves in the fortress, surrendered the town only after a siege of three months.
    In the 19th century Gorinchem's prosperity rose again, as a result of growing industry. The development of the steam engine improved the traffic by boat and train. The accessibility of the town was heightened by new channels and railways.

    The "Jewish Nation" in Gorinchem and the black plague
    In the 14th century the present Dutch territories were German feudal holdings of the Roman king – later emperor – Lodewijk Louis of Bavaria. During his reign the pest epidemic (1348-1352) broke out in Europe, of which the Jews were accused. As in the German countries, the Jews were persecuted and by instigation of the flagellants and the people, they were burned alive.

    In this connection Gorkum's chronicler, Cornelis van Zomeren, noted:
    "When in the year 1349 the Pest illness attacked almost all Christianity in the most violent way, and in many places leaving barely one out of ten, this town also felt the heavy punishment: because in old books it is noted that the Pastor, the Chaplain and some of the town rulers and certainly four hundred other people died, so that the grief of the inhabitants was very great and no people from other places were allowed to enter town. In the same year eight houses near the harbor burnt down. But I could not find any mention of how this happened."

    In his book "Jan van Arkel, Bisschop van Utrecht," Groningen 1970, C.A. Rutgers writes:
    "In 1335 when the bishop was visiting Italy, a saint appeared to him during the recitation of the mass, who ordered him to urge the cardinal-archbishop of Ravenna to hand his chaplain, the priest of Chorinchem, several relics. When this priest, Nicolaus Poker, arrived in Gorcum with the relics in 1362, Otto, the Lord of Arkel, and the whole population cheered and the infidels received their punishment from the Lord."

    When this priest, Nicolaus Poker, returned to Gorcum in 1362, there were still many witnesses alive, who remembered the pest epidemic and the murder of the Jews. The memory of these events had obviously not faded … and the burghers cheered.

    Anyone acquainted with the history of the pest epidemic of the years 1348 till 1352, will understand that the remarks regarding houses burnt and infidels punished by the Lord, refer to the Jews, who were burned in their houses in Gorcum.

    The same happened for instance in Zwolle, as witnessed by Albertus Snavel, the former mayor of the town, who wrote: "At the end of August 1349 the Jews of Zwolle were burnt amore Dei."

    The abbot Gillis li Musis describes in his chronicle that the flagellants of Doornik in 1349 came from Dordrecht. On their way they possibly passed Gorinchem. One of them could have been the Dutch count Willem V, born in 1329, who in 1357 was declared insane, and was succeeded by his brother Albrecht as count of Bayern. Jewish Memorbooks, like the ones from Hanau, Mainz, Strassbourg and Weisenau, all mention that in 1349 Jews were also murdered in Holland, which could have been in Gorinchem.

    In this connection we have to understand that these early chroniclers were usually priests. Their manuscripts were censored in order to preserve the good name of the church. Some facts could reach us either obscurely or uncensored.

    The 20th century
    The first expansion of the town since the 17th century started at the beginning of the 20th century. The number of inhabitants had risen as a result of 19th century prosperity. The center of town became so crowded, that new housing had to be built outside the walls. Lingewijk and West were the first new neighborhoods.

    From 1939 till 1971 Gorinchem was managed by the authoritarian and very conservative mayor van Rappard. His controversial declarations from the sixties, regarding long haired Leftists, caused the leftist media to make fun of the town. Beatniks were not very welcome and a show of the Outsiders was interrupted by harsh police action.

    After the Second World War the town was expanded in North Western direction. In the seventies the town was expanded in Eastern direction, with the Wijdschild neighborhood, and in the eighties with Laag Dalem. In 1986 Dalem was joined with Gorinchem. In the meantime, expansion is being made to the East.
    (Source: http://nl. Wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorinchem, adjusted on 27 November 2012)
    On the Dalemse Donken and along the Componistenstreet, 225 luxurious houses are being built.
    Another 1400 flats are being planned to the East of Spijksedijk, between the "Evenementenhal of Van der Most Beheer" and Dalem, which will be finished between 2009 and 2016.

    The Jews in Gorinchem
    YearJewsTotal inhabitants

    * From 1918, including Woudrichem and from 1921 including remaining Jews of the Werkendam community.
    * * From 1937, including Jewish community Leerdam.

    The history of the Jewish community till the German invasion
    Towards the end of the 17th century Jews started to settle in Gorinchem. Between 1696 and 1787 six Jewish citizens were registered. In 1787 there was already a Jewish community. Between 1788 and 1796 fourteen more Jewish citizens were registered, although it is not clear when they actually came to live in Gorinchem. From the 20 citizens registered till 1796, seven were born in Amsterdam and five outside the Dutch Republic.

    These Jews and their families formed a small "kehilla," according to a birth register, kept by Salomon Hartog as from January 1787.
    The newly established kingdom of the Netherlands of 1815, allowed its citizens complete freedom of religion, but there had to be an official church organization. The "kille" of Gorinchem had a synagogue management of their own, resorting under Rotterdam. Membership grew quickly, from 84 in 1809 till the highest number of 212 in 1899.

    Most Jews were shopkeepers, butchers or textile sellers, but the number of needy Jews was higher than the town average.

    After 1900 the number of Jewish inhabitants of Gorkum diminished, mainly due to the move to the great towns like Rotterdam and The Hague. The number of the "kille" members remained the same thanks to the fusion with Giessen-Nieuwkerk in 1899, with Werkendam and Woudrichem in 1920 and with Leerdam and Asperen in 1935. The threat of the Second World War and its start, brought refugees from Germany and -later on- citizens from Rotterdam and The Hague.

    The German occupation
    In May 1940 the German army crossed the Dutch border and occupied the Netherlands. Very soon anti-Jewish measures were announced. Jewish civil servants were fired and three of the five physicians, who were of Jewish origin, had to stop their work. Even schoolchildren were separated. As from September 1941 separate Jewish schooling was created. One primary school class, led by Saartje van Straten, was held in the synagogue. For higher schooling Jewish pupils had to travel to the Jewish Lyceum in Rotterdam, which meant separation from their schoolmates, many hours of travel and getting used to a new school. Esther van Vriesland, a fifteen old girl, described the situation in her diary.

    In May 1942 the synagogue existed 100 years and a special prayer service was held with the attendance of chief rabbi A.B.N. Davids and cantor Rokach from Rotterdam. Shortly afterwards, in the summer of 1942, the deportations started. Large groups were caught in October and November and a few Jews in hiding were betrayed. From the hundred Jews from Gorinchem, marked for deportation, seventy were murdered during the war. One of them, Betje Bloemendal, married to a non-Jew, was betrayed and imprisoned in Rotterdam. She was allowed to give birth to a daughter, but afterwards she was sent to Auschwitz. Her sad story has been told by her granddaughter Judith Uyterlinde.

    After the war the survivors tried to rebuild the kehilla, but as a result of emigration, fewer adherences to the Jewish faith and the few Jews left, the synagogue had to be closed in 1955. The last parnassiem transferred their authority to Rotterdam in 1964, and afterwards Gorinchem became part of the Jewish community of Rotterdam. The management of the cemetery was taken over in 1970 by the municipality of Gorinchem. The tomb stones have been restored and an inventory has been made. The "metaher" house at the entrance is a remarkable architectural specimen.
    On the Melkpad a Jewish memorial surrounded by a low wall, has been erected, with the seventy names of the war victims. Every year in September a memorial service is held there, during which the schoolchildren also play an important role.

    The professions showed the usual pattern among Jews. During the period from 1900 till 1964, out of 56 persons 33 persons were merchants and like.
    There were several Jewish physicians: Dr. van Praag (1876-1961), from 1933 till 1939 general-major with the infantry and Dr. Biegel (1866-1941). Dr. Biegel, who had severed his connection with the Jewish community, became an alderman in 1911, and held this position till 1939. Abraham Sterk represented the SDAP (the Socialist Democratic Workers Party) in the municipal council from 1911 till 1913.

    Synagogue and school
    Until 1817, when the synagogue was inaugurated, a lot of improvising was needed to hold prayer services, as there was no fixed location for this. The former small church building, situated at the Havendijk, which had served as a "hidden church" for various protestant nominations, now became a synagogue. The entry was from the back, near the Burgstraat no. 7, near the "mikwe" and the women part of the synagogue.
    As a result of the bombardment of 1814, the building was damaged and in 1837 the municipal architect had to order its closure. It was sold and rebuilt and became a grain storage. It survived a bombing of 1944, but in 1951 the building was demolished.

    With own funds and with subsidies a plot at the Kweckelstraat no. 20 could be purchased. On "Tu Bishwat", 20 May 1842, the new synagogue, built by Jan van Dooremalen opened its doors. A corridor at the Eastside led to a room and the "mikwe" and to stairs going up to the women gallery with 35 seats. The synagogue was in use till the Second World War.
    Near the synagogue was the Jewish school, which had 25 pupils in 1854. In 1911 there were only 10. It is interesting to note that the cantors and Jewish teachers – usually the same person – served only for short periods. Between 1811 and 1940 there were not less than 20 teachers. Long periods passed without a teacher at all. Sometimes even for 12 years.

    In 1902 a building was added with a schoolroom and a "mikwe," which still exists. On 31 January 1941 the interior of the synagogue was seriously damaged by Germans and NSB (Dutch Nazi Party) members. Some Torah scrolls were saved in time. In 1958 the synagogue was demolished. Three stained glass windows are exhibited in the Gorkum Museum. Two era stones and a weathervane anno 5601 (1841) are also kept in the museum. The chandeliers were somehow found in Denmark. In the year 2000 houses were built on the area where the synagogue once had stood. The old "mikwe" was discovered and preserved.

    Church management
    The consistory had three members and the church council had five. There was also a treasurer for the Holy Land.

    Societies and organizations
    It was a small community, which was however well organized and had an active community life. We mention the most important Jewish organizations and societies:

    - The burial society, Gemieloes Hasodiem, founded in 1842, which in 1868 presented the synagogue with a beautiful Torah mantle, now in the Joods Historisch Museum.
    - Society for care of the poor, officially founded in 1853.
    - The study society Tif'eres Bachoeriem founded in 1856. According to an article in the NIW the pupils were allowed to smoke a cigar or cigarette during the study.
    - The Ets Haim society founded in 1863, which was responsible for the purchase of decorations and artifacts for the synagogue.
    - A branch of the Alliance Israelite Universelle founded in 1892
    - A youth movement for Jewish knowledge and theatre, founded in 1940, shortly before the German invasion.

    Jewish community members were also active in other areas. They were board members of the local branch of the Maatschappij van Weldadigheid, the Free Masons, the merchant society and the Orange society.

    The cemetery
    There was no Jewish cemetery in Gorinchem, and therefore the burials took place in Leerdam. This was a difficult task, since the necessary attendants could not always be found and it was sometimes difficult to transport the body on the day of decease. The fact that it was forbidden for the Protestant church – by order of the Staten van Holland in 1721 –to collect duties on the transportation of bodies to Jewish cemeteries, was cold comfort. On 26 October 1795, after the founding of the Bataafse Republic the Jewish community addressed a petition to the municipal authorities, requesting an area for the "burial of the bodies of their nation."

    The request was handled by a committee regulating the location of a general cemetery. A new petition was addressed to this body, requesting a fitting area, or permission to buy a plot for a Jewish cemetery.
    In their letter from 22 December 1796 the community members Aaron Nathan, Jacob Levy, Salomon David Rubens and Meijer Mozes, pointed out that being obliged to send the bodies elsewhere for burial was very expensive, and sometimes it even happened that the body was returned to them, and then it was very difficult to find a spot for burial. The municipal council followed the advice of the committee and authorized the purchase of a plot, leaving the question what its final destination would become, to be decided upon at a later date.

    In 1799 a parcel of land was indeed purchased, which was yearly hired and sold again in 1804. About the year 1800 a British military cemetery on the town wall and a Dutch British military cemetery near the Krinkelwinkel are mentioned. In 1807 a place was found for the deceased from the military hospital in the Terreplein of the Klein Bolwerk, Bastion X.

    Although the Jewish petition regarding a cemetery is not mentioned, it is noted in the Jewish death registration, the "Dood-Register der Hoogduitsche of Israelitische Gemeente binnen Gorinchem," stating that Jews were buried "on the wall" between 1803 and 1811. This probably refers to a small area used between 1799 and 1804, which was possibly located in bastion IV, and which in 1813 was also known as the Kerkhofbolwerk.
    The uncertainty regarding the exact location of the cemetery reflects the uncertain situation of those years.

    More facts have become known about the period after 1814. On 25 August of that year, the municipal council – on advice of the committee regulating the location of a general cemetery – decided to allocate "a parcel of land from the Arkelschen Dijk" [the curved road had recently been straightened] "situated outside the Arkel gate of this town, stretching from the lower road till the outer side of the mentioned excavated dyke, long thirteen roeden and broad two roeden … as the only appropriate place for the Jewish cemetery. It has been decided to accord the aforementioned small piece of land forever against a yearly payment of six guilders. In 1817 it was decided to surround the plot with a thorny hedge.

    About 1850 the cemetery became too small. A subsidy of 400 guilders from municipal funds enabled the community to enlarge the cemetery to nine decameters. This cemetery, along the W. de Vries Robbeweg still exists and is being maintained by the Gorkum municipality.

    The development of Jewish life in the Ablasserwaard
    The first Jews in the Ablasserwaard region chose to live in Gorinchem, which was quite understandable. Gorinchem was a large town; it was centrally located near the water and offered many advantages which the villages did not possess. The professions of the Jews usually needed large concentrations of inhabitants. Many Jews were merchants or peddlers and therefore they were dependent on a good supply of materials from the production centers. The superb location of Gorinchem near the water assured this supply. With the obtained products the peddlers could reach the hinterland.

    During the 18th century Jews moved also to the villages of the Ablasserwaard. For the same reasons which made Gorinchem a good place to live in, the villages near the dike were preferred above the polder villages. Small Jewish concentrations grew slowly along the dikes. These Jews came from the German countries, where the economic situation together with the existing anti-Semitism compelled them to emigrate; even non-Jewish Germans took the same step.
    While the Jewish community of Gorinchem was characterized by a certain diversity of professions, the "Dike Jews" showed a very one-sided professional structure. They were peddlers or butchers, sometimes even both.

    The profession of butcher was very important for Jewish families. In order to be able to eat kosher food and meat, the presence of a kosher Jewish butcher was a necessity for a Jewish family wanting to settle anywhere. Professions were often passed from father to son, and therefore it happened quite often that several kosher butchers were living in the same village. Their clientele was therefore not only composed of the Jewish community, but also included other villagers. The one sided professional structure forced Jewish families to spread out. A son usually established the same business as his father in a neighboring village.

    The development of the Jewish community of the Ablasserwaard, which had slowly started in the 18th century, continued in the 19th century. This century was characterized in Dutch-Jewish history by a movement to the countryside, by local Jews as well from abroad. Gorinchem also profited from this trend and the Jewish community there grew from 84 people in 1809 till 212 in 1899. The demographic primacy of Gorinchem, over the rest of the Ablasserwaard, remained. The small Jewish concentrations in places like Sliedrecht, Hardinxveld, Giessendam, Papendrecht Ablasserdam and Meerkerk also grew. These communities were characterized by a few large, strong families. Families like van Hechten, de Vries, den Hartog, and van Straten, left their impression on the Jewish life of the Ablasserwaard.
    Their relative small numbers created a small marriage market which caused these families to marry each other.

    About these Jews from the Ablasserwaard, with their large families and small synagogues much may be told. We intend however to limit ourselves to one aspect only. In 1989 Bert Stamkot published the beautiful memory book "Joods Gorcum 1349-1964" describing the history of the Jewish community in Gorinchem. In his book the Jewish community is evaluated in the framework of the general urban society of Gorinchem.

    It is our intention to place the Jewish community of Gorinchem in the framework of the broader Jewish community, and in relation to the surrounding Jewish communities. This line of research gives an unexpected picture of the internal Jewish relations, a picture from within.

    Network and organizational structure
    The Jewish communities in the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands were all locally organized. Each Jewish community was independent without any formal relationship one to the other. Wherever ten Jewish males above the age of 13 were available, a so called "minjan" and a Jewish community could be established. Except the required quorum of ten Jewish males for prayers, a room, a Torah roll and a cantor were needed. Most males went daily to the synagogue and were able to fulfill the position of a cantor, together with their usual profession. In this way also the Jewish community of Gorinchem was founded in the 18th century.

    A Jewish community can exist without a rabbi. As opposed to a Protestant preacher, his main task is not preaching. He is primarily a "dayan," a judge. Based on the "halacha," the Jewish traditional law, he has to hand down decisions regarding specific problems connected with Jewish praxis. When special problems arise, the community may decide to send a written question to a rabbi with the necessary authority. The rabbi would also reply in writing, which gave rise to the so called "responsa literature," the "she'elot uteshuwot" in Hebrew.

    Like the other Ashkenazi communities in the Dutch Republic, the Jewish community of Gorinchem was also a part of the "High German" (Hoogduitse) Ashkenazi network. In this network rabbis could move from one community to another, youngsters studied at jeshiwot – Talmud high schools – wares were traded and marriages were concluded. The rabbis of large communities, like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Hamburg or Breslau enjoyed great authority within this network. There was however no formal structure which made Gorinchem dependent on these rabbis or these Jewish communities. Each Jewish community was an independent entity.

    Each community had a church management, the size of which depended on the size of the community. Many smaller communities had only a chief, who managed the community. The church leaders bore the Hebrew title of "Parnas Umanhig." They were the most respected and rich members of the community, representing the community and taking care of the poor.

    The changes caused by the Batavian revolution, which opened the door to the ideals of the enlightenment, put an end to the independence of the Jewish community. The Jews became citizens with equal rights. Till now they always had been regarded as a strange different nation but from 1796 onwards they became equal Dutch citizens, practicing the Jewish religion.

    The Jewish synagogue was now officially recognized, and its spiritual leaders received part of their income from the government. In order to effect these changes the government requested a central organization. The Jewish communities had therefore to give up their independence and the informal network had to be replaced by an official structure.

    King Willem I continued this policy in 1815 and founded the "Hoofdcommissie tot de Zaken der Israelieten." This commission became the most important institution in the Jewish Netherlands, which represented the Jewish community as a whole and which became responsible for the good functioning of the communities. The commission divided the country into resorts. At the head of each resort was a main synagogue with a chief rabbi. Rotterdam became the main synagogue for South Holland. Under the main synagogue resorted the ring synagogues, which remained rather independent, but were accountable to the main synagogue of Rotterdam.
    Dordrecht and Gorinchem were ring synagogues, which were responsible for the so-called additional synagogues. Sliedrecht and since 1863 also Ridderkerk, which included Alblasserdam were such additional synagogues, resorting under the ring synagogue Dordrecht, which of course created a situation in which Dordrecht could very much influence their handling of affairs.

    The Gorkum Jews, who claimed the whole Jewish Alblasserwaard were disappointed.
    The ring synagogue Gorinchem had no additional synagogues at all. During the
    French occupation the whole region had resorted under Gorinchem.
    In a letter from August 1815 the parnas Joseph Samkalden mentioned all places which
    had "belonged" to Gorinchem: Sliedrecht, Lekkerland, Bleskensgraaf, Streefkerk and

    The Hoofdcommissie however decided differently. The whole Alblasserwaard was put under the jurisdiction of Dordrecht, which was a heavy loss for Gorinchem.
    The other communities had to extend financial support to the ring synagogue.
    Which places then came under Gorinchem's jurisdiction, after the 1816 definitive division into resorts?
    Hoogblokland (no Jews), Giessen Nieuwkerk (4), Hardinxveld (14), Kedichem (no Jews), Meerkerk (8), Giessendam (10), Heukelum (9) en Asperen (7).
    At that time, in Gorinchem, there lived 72 Jews, with a Jewish school, a mikwe and a cemetery.
    There was no synagogue, and no rabbi. Only in Gorinchem, services were held.
    In the whole region there were four poor people.
    This arrangement gave Gorinchem the leadership of the Eastern "waard" and of the Vijfherenlanden region. This situation would however not persist.

    Relations with the eastern Ablasserwaard and the Vijfherenlanden
    The relative large size of Jewish community of Gorkum granted this community an important place amongst the Jewish communities of the Ablasserwaard.
    The cemetery, the Jewish school and the cantor were very important for many Jewish families in the villages.

    There were sometimes difficulties between the Jewish communities. This happened for instance in 1815, when chief rabbi Casriel from Rotterdam requested the Gorcum community to collect part of his salary from the Jewish community of Leerdam. Consequently an invoice for 25 guilders was sent to the Leerdam parnassiem
    A.J. Blitz and J.J. Pakkert. These gentlemen found this amount suspiciously high and they sent a letter to Rotterdam in order to check the amount. This was also the first time that the salary of the chief rabbi was collected in a small community.

    Leerdam wrote: "And since this is for us a new and unusual matter and the aforementioned gentlemen, the Manhiegem (referring to J. Samkalden and E.M. Hartog) are usually dealing in old materials, the one in old iron and the other in old clothes, we are unable to believe that this amount has been proportionally taxed. Moreover we live in this place with five honorable citizens and we hire one room for a church for a yearly payment of 42 guilders, and we have to maintain a school master, a cantor etc. And many citizens living here are poor people."

    It is a pity that we do not know how this matter was solved, but it is clear that the people from Leerdam did not have much confidence in the two "manhiegem" from Gorcum. Leerdam became a ring synagogue of Rotterdam. In 1816, the greater part of the Vijfherenlanden region resorted under Gorinchem, but that was changed soon. Leerdam acquired the authority over Asperen, Heukelum, Kedichem and Meerkerk and after the resort division of 1821, only the eastern part of the Ablasserwaard was left for Gorinchem.

    In view of the difficult financial position of the community the loss of Meerkerk was especially painful for Gorinchem and in 1818 they tried to get this community back.

    Gorinchem wrote:" When computing the contribution for this year, we are very sorry to conclude that it is not sufficient to cover the needs of our community, not only because of the smallness of the amount, but more important because most inhabitants of the villages, which are part of our community, like: Giesendam, Hardinxveld and Giessennieuwkerk, live in a poor situation, and are not able to contribute much.
    In the other villages of the ring no Israelites are living."

    The budget for the year 1818 could indeed not be closed.

    And they continued: "For the same reason the undersigned apply herewith to the Commission, in name of the Israelite community of Gorinchem, requesting that in order to ensure the existence of the aforementioned community the villages Ameijde and Meerkerk will be added to our community as these mentioned villages are situated very near to us. Because we have a ring synagogue we deserve it more than any other synagogue, which is not in need of the neighboring villages, the residents of which belong to our religion, who in their goodness contribute not a little to the existence of our community."

    But the request was not complied with, since Ameide had already been assigned to Vianen and Meerkerk to Leerdam. Meerkerk had officially been assigned to Leerdam, but they did not pay. The people of Leerdam sent a letter to the Commission, stating: "Without Meerkerk, our budget will show a shortage of income."

    From the people of Leerdam not more money could be expected; even the places in the synagogue were all hired out for a total of 19 guilders.

    Leerdam had no luck. After asking the people of Meerkerk what they actually wanted, they became official members of the Jewish community of Vianen, which was quite understandable in view of the family relations between Jews from Meerkerk and Vianen.
    But in 1845 they were not content with this arrangement anymore. They wanted to conduct services by themselves. On Shabbat and Jewish holidays they could not visit a synagogue at all. It was too far to walk to the synagogues in the vicinity, Vianen, Leerdam and Gorcum, and therefore they could not partake in any religious service.

    After some time the community of Meerkerk started to grow, and counted about ten males, enabling services of their own.
    They wrote the commission: "Now, in view of the increasing membership of this community, we would like to solve this problem by opening a small synagogue, which would enable us to fulfill our religion jointly as fitting."
    This letter, written by Philip de Vries, was also signed by Blok and Snapper, two other Jews from Meerkerk.
    The reply of the commission is not known. It is not very likely that they authorized the request from Meerkerk, since the commission was not very generous regarding small communities. We assume that the people from Meerkerk held their services at the home of one of their members, as was often done in other villages.

    Relations with the western Ablasserwaard
    Small Jewish concentrations were also located to the west of Gorinchem, including dike villages like Hardinxveld, Giessendam and Sliedrecht. Since the end of the 18th century Sliedrecht had a synagogue where the Jews of these places could fulfill their religious obligations. Sliedrecht was the demographic focal point of these communities.
    Since 1814 the Jewish inhabitants of Hardinxveld and Giessendam were formally part of the Jewish community of Gorinchem, which meant that they had to pay their contribution to Gorinchem and that they could be buried in the Jewish cemetery there.
    The synagogue of Gorinchem was too far, so people went to Sliedrecht.
    In 1833 several families moved from Sliedrecht to neighboring villages. Since this caused a loss of income for the small Jewish community of Sliedrecht, the parnas
    S.E. de Vries contacted the Main Commission, requesting that the Jews of Hardinxveld and Giessendam would be officially added to Sliedrecht.

    The energetic de Vries argued that Gorinchem had taxed the new inhabitants with a very high amount of contribution, although these people are unable to use the synagogue there, which is at a two hours distance, while the synagogue of Sliedrecht is only half an hour away. These people refuse to pay a double contribution … and so our church will cease to exist.

    Financial details from Gorinchem prove that the amount in question was 30 guilders. Notwithstanding the support of the church management of Dordrecht, which also suffered from this move, the Main Commission decided to leave the villages with Gorinchem.

    In 1835 the new parnas of Sliedrecht, Joel de Vries, made another effort, regarding Giessendam only. Again the reason was a move. Two families, belonging to the highest contribution payers, left Sliedrecht for Giessendam and another family from Sliedrecht had become poor, and had to be supported by the community.

    The arguments to add Giessendam to the resort of Sliedrecht were that the walking distance was only a quarter of an hour and the fact that Giessendam actually belonged to the "canton of Sliedrecht." Support came again from Dordrecht. They argued that the poor of Sliedrecht would receive no support at all in case the change would not be effected and the Jewish community of Sliedrecht would cease to exist.
    Dordrecht was understandably very much afraid that the care for these poor would fall on their shoulders. Jewish Gorcum took no part in the whole dispute. That became clear during the fall of that year, when the Main Commission decided that Giessendam indeed should belong to the Sliedrecht resort.
    The parnassim of Gorinchem sent an angry letter to the Main Commission complaining that the Giessendam Jews, Benjamin and Hijman de Vries and the widow Van der Giessen and her son, refused to pay their contribution. Gorinchem received a formal reply only, stating that on 26 May 1835 the border changes were fixed.

    It is easy to guess that the relations between Gorinchem and Sliedrecht were quite tense. The matter exploded in 1838, when Sliedrecht tried again to acquire Hardinxveld.
    In May a family from Giessendam moved a few houses away from their previous dwelling, which put their new residence in Hardinxveld. For many years the Hardinxveld Jews paid contribution to Gorinchem and to Sliedrecht as well. The new family incited the other four Jewish families of Hardinxveld to stop their payments to Sliedrecht. The parnas Hijman de Vries argued again that the community would not be able to exist as long as Hardinxveld would not be added to Sliedrecht.

    "Only such a measure will make it possible to maintain good order, to return the wandering to the right path, and to maintain the church – which is a show of deeply felt religion."

    The Gorinchem manhiegim, Izaak Heymans, Nathan van Straten and Enoch van der Sluijs, protested strongly. They even demanded that that the whole Alblasserwaard, including Sliedrecht and Giessendam, would fall under Gorinchem jurisdiction. They defended their point of view, since from juridical and civil view Gorinchem was the main town of the Alblasserwaard.

    The end of the struggle was that none of the two parties succeeded in realizing their aims, and therefore the status quo was kept. In 1849 chief rabbi Berenstein visited the region. The Sliedrecht parnassiem decided to utilize this opportunity. They showed the chief rabbi how near Hardinxveld was to Sliedrecht. They were under the impression that this important official would regard a border change with sympathy.
    Another letter was sent to the highest Jewish authority, the Main Commission, adding of course that the Commission should contact chief rabbi Berenstein in the matter.

    The Main Commission was not in a hurry to reply and therefore Sliedrecht sent another letter, requesting agreement to be reached within a few days:
    "For us it is an important matter, and Gorinchem would certainly not miss it, since the pittance Gorinchem receives from Hardinxveld is being paid reluctantly, which may be compared to hidden extortion."

    After the commission had reached the conclusion that the facilities offered by Sliedrecht were not less than what Gorinchem could offer, they decided that the people of Hardinxveld would in the future pay their contribution to Sliedrecht only. The loss of Giessendam and Hardinxveld came as a shock to Gorinchem.
    Only a few small villages in its vicinity remained. For a short time in 1850 the Jews from Giessen-Nieuwkerk and Giessenburg were also added to Sliedrecht. Quite soon these Jews returned to their former communities when many of them concluded that the synagogue in Sliedrecht was too far away.


    Pinkas, Geschiedenis van de Joodse gemeenschap in Nederland,
    Jozeph Michman, Hartog Beem en Dan Michman,
    translated from Hebrew by Ruben Verhasselt, additional research and research of pictures by Victor Brilleman, final redaction Joop Sanders and Edward van Voolen,
    Amsterdam/Antwerpen 1999.

    Website "Joods Historisch Museum"

    Website Wikipedia

    Stenen Archief Gorinchem.doc,
    B. Stamkot.

    Joods Gorcum 1349-1964.
    Een gedenkboek, Gorinchem 1989
    B. Stamkot m.m.v. J. Becker and H.H. Meijler.

    De Joodse begraafplaats van Gorinchem - een studie,
    R.F. van Dijk.

    Omstreden leiderschap, de Joodse gemeente Gorinchem en de Joodse Ablasserwaard in de eerste helft van de negentiende eeuw,
    B. Wallet,
    Historische Vereniging Oud-Gorcum, 2003.

    Extracted from the sources by:Jan Sanberg & Alie van den Berg
    Translated into English by:Mechel Jamenfeld
    Final editing by:Ben & Hanneke Noach

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