Aboard Amsterdam’s Jewish gay boat, activists warn against tolerating hate


Its passengers included celebrities, a rabbi and revelers in biblically themed costumes, but the Jewish boat at Amsterdam’s gay pride parade stood out for more than just its riders.

Following a west-to-east course along the Dutch capital’s Prinsengracht canal on Saturday along with dozens of similarly flamboyant vessels, the Jewish boat was the only one in the parade isolated by police. Two boats with three officers each escorted the ship, while two additional agents sailed aboard the Jewish boat itself.

With increased violence aimed of late at Jews in the Netherlands and across Europe, authorities weren’t taking any chances.

“We’d planned this just to show that we [gay Jews] exist as a community but with all that’s happened, I’m now here to stand up for our rights also as Jews to live as equals without threats by those who want to see Jews or gays silent or dead,” said Gideon Querido van Frank, the Jewish boat’s chief organizer, who boarded the boat wearing a Bronze Age soldier outfit laced with glitter.

As Israel’s military campaign in Gaza has unfolded over the past month, acts of violence and intimidation have risen in Holland, threatening the country’s reputation for tolerance.

In addition to repeated acts of vandalism at the home of a Dutch chief rabbi, police last week confirmed reports that in two separate incidents, a Jewish woman was assaulted for displaying an Israeli flag on her home. One was beaten on the street, while the other had a firebomb and stones hurled at her window.

In The Hague, Muslim extremists twice chanted slogans about killing Jews at demonstrations that featured jihadist symbols, sparking a national debate about limiting freedom of expression because police failed to intervene.

But none of that deterred the 50 people who registered to sail aboard the Jewish boat at the 19th Amsterdam Pride Canal Parade, a world-famous aquatic procession that attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators from across Holland and beyond. If anything, the attacks led passengers to broaden their message of tolerance for gays to include rejection of anti-Semitism and a demand that authorities crack down on hate speech.

The people intimidating Jews are also responsible for “a reversal in the level of acceptance of gay people in the Netherlands,” said Marianne van Praag, a Reform rabbi from The Hague who boarded the boat even though it sailed on Shabbat because she believes that speaking out against hatred of Jews and gays has become “a matter of life and death.”

In some areas of the city, van Praag told JTA, “gay people no longer dare hold hands on the street because they don’t find it safe.”

“I find it imperative that a statement on this be made also from the religious circles,” she said.

Throughout the parade, participants flew a rainbow flag emblazoned with a Star of David and cheered at spectators waving Israeli flags in solidarity. Organizers referred to Israel over the loudspeaker, not least in introducing the boat’s main attraction: The transgender pop idol Dana International, who led Israel to victory at the 1998 Eurovision song contest with her hit “Diva.”

“I don’t believe in any religion, so I’m here as an Israeli, not as a Jew,” Dana International told JTA. “But it’s time to end the persecution over religion or national reasons. Just cut out all that s***. That’s my message.”

Dressed in a tight black dress and golden leggings on the boat’s main platform, Dana International shouted into the microphone, “Thank you Amsterdam for being so tolerant of gay rights and all minorities. Thank you Holland for being the most tolerant place on earth. Don’t ever change.”

While many Dutchmen are proud of the liberal policies and values for which their country is renowned, some fear it is changing. In particular, the spate of anti-Semitic incidents in recent weeks has prompted concern that not enough is being done to defend Dutch freedoms from people bent on abusing them.

“Tolerance is important but needs to have limits,” said Ken Gould, a gay Jewish cantor who runs KunstenIsrael, the Netherlands Foundation for Israeli Culture. “Clearly those limits have been breached. I am here also to draw attention to that.”

In the wake of the anti-Semitic demonstrations in The Hague, a petition with 17,000 signatures was sent to the Dutch Senate asking for the resignation of Mayor Jozias van Aartsen because city police denied hearing incitement at the demonstration despite footage that seemed to prove it.

“We can’t close our eyes and pretend there are no problems any longer,” said Louise Fokkens, who with her twin sister, Martine, rode the boat in matching white costumes. “It’s time to fight back and make a stand, and that’s why we are aboard.”

The Fokkens twins, who are in their 70s, are famous in the Netherlands for having worked 50 years as prostitutes in Amsterdam’s Red Light District before their retirement earlier this year. The fact that they are Jewish isn’t very well known, yet someone painted a swastika near their apartment during Israel’s previous military campaign in Gaza, Louise Fokkens said.

“Last time they targeted the Jews and the gays, nobody said anything,” said Martine Fokkens, referring to the Holocaust. “Well, this is us saying something.”

Missing Florida millionaire left tefillin on abandoned boat


Guma Aguiar, a Florida businessman and philanthropist who went missing in June, left his tefillin on his abandoned boat.

All of the life jackets also were accounted for, the Coast Guard reported, according to the Sun-Sentinel, after getting the records through a Freedom of Information Act request. His wedding ring and watch were left at home.

Aguiar, the CEO of Leor Energy who lived in Fort Lauderdale, left his home on June 19. His empty 31-foot boat washed ashore in Fort Lauderdale the following morning.

Aguiar's wife reportedly had asked for a divorce just before he left the house. Aguiar had a history of ill mental health, according to reports citing family members.
The disappearance remains an open missing persons case.

In 2009, Aguiar gave $8 million to the pro-aliyah group Nefesh B’Nefesh and $500,000 to March of the Living, which takes high school-aged Jews to Poland to see Holocaust sites. He also became a fixture of Israeli sports pages when he became the main sponsor of the Israeli Premier League soccer team Beitar Jerusalem.

While Aguiar, who has a Jewish mother, did not grow up with much of a Jewish background, he later returned to Judaism and has made large gifts to Jewish and Israeli causes. He made his fortune when he discovered huge natural gas reserves in Texas.

Report: Israeli, Lebanese naval forces cooperating


Israel’s navy is reportedly cooperating with its Lebanese counterpart to prevent foreign ships from approaching Israeli waters.

Israeli naval officials say their cooperation with Lebanon has increased, according to a report in Haaretz.

In advance of Land Day last month, Lebanon reportedly beefed up its naval patrols and barred ships from approaching the maritime border with Israel. Lebanon also reportedly has assisted Israel in driving away fishing boats that approach Israeli waters with the result that “significantly fewer” such ships now approach Israel’s border.

The cooperation is apparently conducted through an international body, through which Israel relays information about boats closing in on its maritime border. The information is then relayed to Lebanese forces, which drives the ship away.

Israel reportedly is expecting pro-Palestinian flotillas to approach by sea in advance of May 15, when Palestinians mark the anniversary of the Nakba, the “catastrophe” of Israel’s birth.

French flotilla boat seized, U.S. activists end activities


A French boat that left a Greek port for Gaza earlier in the week was detained by the Greek coast guard, while a U.S. activist group has ended its activities.

The French-flagged Dignity, a pleasure craft with eight passengers on board, was detained Thursday while refueling in Crete. A Greek official told CNN that the ship would not be allowed to continue on to Gaza.

Meanwhile, Leslie Cagan, coordinator of the U.S. Boat to Gaza, wrote Wednesday on the US to Gaza website that the team of activists from the United States ended its activities in Athens.

“The Greek government’s willingness to serve as the enforcer of Israeli’s naval blockade of Gaza made it impossible for this journey to happen,” Cagan wrote.

The U.S.-flagged Audacity of Hope remains in the hand of the Greek authorities and it is not known when it will be released.

Israel intercepts Jewish boat headed for Gaza


Israeli commandos peacefully intercepted a boat carrying Jewish activists who hoped to breach Israel’s embargo of the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Navy boats blocked the Irene, which was carrying 10 passengers and crew, at about midday Tuesday and diverted the boat to Israel’s Ashdod seaport.

The boat is carrying a cargo of toys and medical equipment for distribution inside Gaza. The inventory is intended for delivery to the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme.

Israel has blockaded Gaza because it is under the control of a terrorist group, Hamas.

Israel eased the blockade under international pressure following a deadly May 31 raid on a Turkish-flagged aid ship in a flotilla. Eight Turks and one Turkish-American were killed in the violence.

Man drowns in Lake Piru while rescuing daughter


Close to 400 people packed the second-floor Moshe Ganz Hall on La Brea Blvd. Tuesday morning to pay respects for Naftoli Smolyanksy, who died in a boating accident Aug. 25.

To accommodate the overflowing crowds, speaker systems were set up in adjacent rooms and outside. This enabled an additional 300 community members to commemorate the Russian immigrant. Smolyansky, 39, drowned after saving his 5-year-old daughter who had fallen in Lake Piru in Ventura County.

Family members, friends and rabbis were brought to tears at the levaya (vigil), where speakers included Rabbi Aharon Dov Freidman, Rabbi Gershon Bess, Paul Greenberg, Rabbi Chaim Fasman, and Rabbi Baruch Grabon.

They described Smolyansky’s struggles as a young immigrant, his study in Israel, his dedication to his wife and five children and his generosity and commitment to helping those in need.

“[Smolyansky] represented living Torah,” Rabbi Aharon Dov Freidman said.

Smolyansky had taken his 9-year-old son and 5- and 7-year-old daughters out on the lake Monday afternoon when the youngest daughter fell off the boat. All of the children were wearing life vests. Smolyansky immediately leapt into the water to rescue the girl. As she clung to him, his two other children, who witnessed the tragic event, could see their father quickly losing strength. In a final bout of strength, Smolyansky was able to get his daughter onto the boat as it drifted away. Smolyanksy was unable to swim to the boat and did not resurface. Several reports say that his children heard him say he would not make it.

A massive search was conducted by the community as people threw their support to the family. Ventura County Sheriff’s Department responded instantly with helicopters, a dive team and a rescue swimmer. Partnered with the Sheriff’s Department, Hatzolah of Los Angeles — the Volunteer Emergency Medical Rescue Team that serves much of the Orthodox community — quickly reacted in addition to services of L.A. County Board of Supervisor Zev Yaroslovsky, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, five Ventura County Fire Department units (including a swift water team) and Lake Piru park rangers.

The search continued until the body was found on Monday, a week after the disappearance, with an official recess each evening, though many continued to search, according to Hatzolah Coordinator, Rabbi Michoel Bloom. By the second day of the efforts, Hatzolah had rented all available boats. Bloom estimated that at least 150 people helped each day to look for Smolyansky, many of whom did not have any relation to him. Many of them were simply heartbroken by the events, Bloom said.

Sources say that on Monday, Sept. 1, a group of 10 rabbis gathered on a boat in the lake and recited prayers in hopes of finding the body. A lit candle mounted on a flat piece of bread was set afloat as the group waited for it to stop moving. The rabbis then dropped a stone into the water, and within a few hours, reports say, the body allegedly rose to the surface.

Smolyansky was a member of Congregation Kehilas Yaakov and the Los Angeles Kollel, both on Beverly Boulevard. Fellow congregants remember him for his generosity, welcoming smile and modesty. Since immigrating to the United States, Smolyansky had become a successful businessman, owning several adult day-care facilities. He also was known as a major donor throughout the community.

One story from the vigil described how Smolyansky once paid for all the funeral preparations for a family who could not afford them. Another story told how he once helped a financially struggling man cope with his misfortune.

The final speaker, Rabbi Grabon, after thanking volunteers and rangers for their immeasurable support, said his final words to Smolyansky’s 9-year old son: “Your father loved you, and we loved your father.”

The funeral and burial followed the levaya at Mt. Carmel Cemetery.

Noah is full of animal crackers


Animal Crackers

This week’s Torah Portion is Noach. We learn that Noah had to build a massive ark (aka a really BIG boat) because the floods were coming. Two of every animal (one male, one female) had to make it onto the boat, otherwise there would be no more of that animal in the world — the story goes that that’s why we don’t have unicorns today. Pretend you are Noah or his wife and you are making a list of animals. Put what the animal is called in the right blank. To check your answers, visit scroll to the bottom of this page.

1) Male Cat ______
2) Female Cat ______

3) Male Deer ______
4) Female Deer _______

5) Male Fox______
6) Female Fox _______

7) Male Goat _______
8) Female Goat ______

9) Male Horse ______
10) Female Horse ________

11) Male Sheep _____
12) Female Sheep _______

13) Male Swan _____
14) Female Swan _____

Words to choose from:

a) Billy, b) Buck, c) Cob, d) Doe, e) Dog, f) Ewe, g) Mare, h) Nanny, I) Pen, j) Queen, k) Ram, l) Stallion, m) Tom, n) Vixen

Kein v’ Lo:

Ghosts

This section of the page is a way for you as kids to sound off about an issue. While some Jews do not participate in Halloween because of its Christian and pagan origins, at this time of year it’s hard to ignore that there are a lot of monsters, witches and pumpkins all over town. This month’s Kein v’ Lo looks at ghosts and spirits and examines whether we believe in such things.

The Kein Side:

  • It is believed that the souls of our loved ones continue to watch over us after they have died. This is why sometimes if you go to the home of someone who has died, you can still feel his or her presence.
  • If ghosts and evil spirits weren’t real, then why would some people be so superstitious about protecting themselves from the “evil eye” by wearing a hamsah (amulet), saying “kein ayin hora” or breaking a glass at a wedding to scare off evil spirits?

The Lo Side:

  • When people say they “see” a ghost, that cannot be. It is the soul that is supposed to remain, so there is nothing to see. Basically, ghost sightings have never been proven.
  • Science disputes the existence of ghosts. They are not the spirits of the dead, but traces that have been left behind because of really strong emotional connections.

Discuss your opinions in your classroom or around your dining table with your family. We aren’t saying which is right and which is wrong. We want to know what you think. Send your thoughts to Kids@jewishjournal.com with Kein v’Lo in the subject line.

Answers:

1m, 2j, 3b, 4d, 5e, 6n, 7a, 8h, 9l, 10g, 11k, 12f, 13c, 14i

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