Beit HaChidush: Recalling the First Five Years
Just as the Dutch created a country from land at the bottom of the sea, so has Beit HaChidush created a Jewish community where one didn’t exist in the past.
BHC, which celebrated its fifth anniversary in December, 2000, was formed to fulfill the needs of those Jews who were not being served by the existing congregations in the Netherlands. The three original founders, Wanya Kruyer, Ken Gould and François Spiero, were all particularly interested in serving the gay and lesbian Jewish community.
Wanya, who is Dutch, and Ken, who is American, met at a Rosh Hashana reception organized by Sjalhomo, the gay/lesbian Dutch Jewish organization. They were soon joined by François, a Frenchman who was working in Amsterdam at the time.
BHC’s first Friday night service was held on 1 December, 1995, which coincided with World AIDS Day, at François’s apartment in the center of Amsterdam. A total of 13 gay men and lesbians attended, including the then-vice president of the World Congress, Jack Gilbert, who came from London.
Ken explained, "At first, we used as our model the existing 25 or so gay/lesbian congregations in the United States. But we soon realized that our target group was much broader than simply the gay and lesbian community. There were those who were feminist-minded as well as those who were more open to renewal Judaism and to new approaches to spirituality, and there were people who were simply looking for a more relaxed atmosphere than was available in other congregations in the Netherlands."
BHC’s activities have expanded from a single monthly service to include weekly Torah studies, guest lecturers, and workshops given by rabbis from England and the United States. Primarily, the guest rabbis are women, giving congregants an opportunity to see and hear women rabbis with whom they otherwise would not have the opportunity to come in contact.
For the past three years BHC has had sponsorship from the gay business community in Amsterdam, which sponsors Gay Pride Weekend the first weekend in August. A guest rabbi is flown to Amsterdam for the weekend and then leads erev Shabbat services and workshops. The fact that BHC is listed in several gay reference publications and is a member of the World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Jews especially helps to boost attendance.
"We celebrate the High Holidays, and we continue to make plans for the future. These plans include acquiring our own space as well as seeking professional rabbinical assistance on a more regular basis, and eventually on a more permanent basis," noted Ken, a singer by profession who performs at BHC services as well as at the liberal congregation in The Hague.
Wanya noted that BHC members "have put ourselves on the map of the Jewish community in the Netherlands, and we have had enormous continuity in these past five years."