By Ruth Ellen Gruber
Nir Hasson reports in Ha'aretz how the discovery of a 25-year-old book in Israel reveals a fascinating slice of the Jewish history of Amsterdam -- as well as a clutch of mysteries.
Friday June 3, 1768, was an exciting day in the sizable Jewish community of Amsterdam. That day, the Stadtholder (chief executive) of Holland, William V of the House of Orange, arrived for a rare visit to the Jewish quarter and the synagogue, accompanied by his wife, Wilhelmina of Prussia. "Their Highnesses sat on the bench of the community elders, the other ministers and dignitaries were seated on two velvet benches on the north and south sides of the synagogue. As they entered the synagogue, the Holy Ark was opened, the cantors and vocalists had begun to sing 'Baruch Haba' [Welcome]" [...].
Stefan Litt, an archivist at the National Library in Jerusalem, found this description in the course of his research into the registries of the Ashkenazi communities (pinkassei kahal ) in the 17th and 18th centuries. The registry goes on to note that a community elder, Gumpel Klev, bestowed on the royal couple a keepsake from the community: "Two books printed on white satin, the cover pages beautifully ornamented with their insignia."
Two weeks ago, Litt located one of these two books, which were printed on cloth nearly 250 years ago, in the storerooms of the National Library in Jerusalem. Did the Stadtholder leave the book on his seat when he got up to leave? What was scribbled in Dutch on the last page? And why was this scribble erased? Why are there traces of one of the pages being singed? How did the book make its way to the National Library? All of these matters are still shrouded in mystery.
Read the article on Ha'aretz