“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
~ George Santayana
The first Jews in New Amsterdam (currently New York) were Dutch Jews who had ended up there via the sugar trade in Brazil, and possibly, the slave trade in Curacao which has the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.
When we entered that synagogue in Willemstad today, which has a beautiful white (almost Moorish) interior set off by dark wood, candles that look like hurricane lamps and golden candelabra, the first thing you really notice is the white sand on the floor.
For a moment I associated it with the palaces of Queen Elizabeth I, which, apparently had straw on the floor in places but the sand goes back to the Inquisition. In countries of the Inquisition, such as Portugal and Spain, Jews put sand on the floor to dampen the sound so their religious practices wouldn’t be overheard. (I must say Anne Frank came to mind too; she and her family had to be very quiet during the day because there was an office downstairs and many of the office workers didn’t know there were people hiding in the building– and of course the Nazi persecution was another Inquisition of sorts).
In the seventeenth century, many Jews flocked to Amsterdam (the New Jerusalem) because William of Orange instituted freedom of religion, or rather religious tolerance. These Jews came with extended networks in trade and were partly responsible for the economic success of the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic. Another textbook example of immigrants always being a net positive.
Today several rabbis were arrested because they were protesting in front of Trump Tower. They know their history in a way that Americans do not. They were there, in front of Trump Tower, in solidarity with their Muslim brothers, because they too, believe in religious diversity. Today it may be a Muslim ban, but if evil prevails, we will soon be dealing with another Inquisition. Quite frankly, the American founders ran from some of these vices (like religious persecution and abuse of power by autocrats, like kings– King Donald?), so if you know your American history and believe in it as I do, you’ll understand that the Trump regime is turning the clock back, not forward.
Our second stop was the museum founded by Jacob Gelt Dekker, a Dutch entrepreneur who turned that whole section of the city around by restoring the buildings and opening a museum which is not so much a museum about the slave trade but about the early civilizations of the different African tribes.
When we in Europe were still chasing small game and hoarding berries, some African tribes already had a garbage collection system in place, knew how to mine gold and built cathedrals with mud. History, the history as we still find it in our history books is mostly white history. Or, in the words of Jacob Gelt Dekker (read the last paragraph here):
As I was reading these words, two Dutch, white millenials walked in and the lady at the counter had momentarily walked away to get something from the back. The conversation went as follows:
Girl: “It’s not free. I think they charge admission.”
Guy: “Huh– why would you think that? Let’s just go in.”
Hmmm, why do millenials have to think everything should be free?! (Abovementioned Dekker poured millions of his own money into this charming and revealing place…).
As they were ready to walk in, I told them they had to pay. Sorry, but I can be a bitch and I hate losers like that.
Guy: “Oh”. Busted.
To the girl: “How much?”
Guy: “Forget it.” And so they left.
You can read all sort of things into it. Maybe they were cheap skates. Maybe they were on a budget. But I just thought: white entitlement…
The current Trump administration with Bannon at the wheel is one of white entitlement, too. They (and their oligarchic set of bankers and businessmen) want free admission for everything at the cost of others. In their world, there is very little to no place or sympathy for others who are not white and not male: they are at war with women, Muslims, blacks, Asians (“too many Asian CEOs in Silicon Valley”, Bannon said, on the record).
When Obama was elected, I thought the US was turning a very important page: If America could elect a black president, I thought naively, we could begin to overcome some of our very dark history (our long history of slavery, white supremacy, violence against and hatred of blacks, the arduous struggle for civil rights). Very quickly, Trump appeared on the horizon and began to insinuate (as he does so well) and delegitimize this president with a conspiracy theory, smearing him as a non-American citizen and, possibly, Muslim to boot. The claim was never proven and rooted in white supremacy and entitlement.
We now see more and more of Trump’s agenda of white supremacy in ways that is going to set this country back in shameful and damaging ways.
Willemstad has important lessons from the past for the present. For those who cannot travel to Willemstad, education needs to be in place so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.
Education is key.
Oh wait, we just confirmed Betsy de Vos…