Rabbi Lody van de Kamp, a bearded, bespectacled, yarmulka-wearing rabbi, is a 66-year-old retired director of an orthodox Jewish school in Amsterdam. He’s pretty well-known in the small Jewish community here. Back in 2010, Rabbi van de Kamp’s students told him that Muslim youths were hurling racist epithets at them. And that it was happening all over the city.
The rabbi is what you’d call “visibly Jewish,” so, together with a couple of his students and a film crew from the local Jewish broadcaster, he walked through Amsterdam’s Muslim-majority neighborhoods to collect footage. At one point, the group walked past a group of teenagers. One of the boys stood up, thrust his arm into the air, and gave Rabbi van de Kamp a Nazi salute.
The interaction was broadcast on Dutch national TV the next day. For a few days after, the incident dominated the larger discussion of the integration of Muslims into Dutch society. One Dutch Moroccan activist saw the program and later facilitated a meeting between Rabbi van de Kamp and the boy who gave him the Nazi salute. They talked and became friends.
But since then, attacks by Muslim extremists on Jews and Jewish institutions have become common in Europe, such as the 2014 attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels and the shooting in the kosher supermarket in Paris early this year. Similar incidents were happening on a smaller scale in Holland too.
Some Muslims have tried to address the problem, like Fatima Elatik, former city alderman for Amsterdam East for the center-left Labor Party. Her colorful headscarves and red lipstick are as recognizable throughout the city as her outspoken views on tolerance.
“The Jewish community is a very small community in our society and when I hear Jewish people say, ‘I want to leave. I don’t feel safe,’ that hurts me,” she says.
When conflict breaks out between the two communities, Elatik makes it a point to call her Jewish friends — among them, Rabbi van de Kamp. She recalls calling him after the supermarket attack in Paris: “I told him, I’m ashamed. … Because someone is abusing my religion that gives me so much inspiration, to hurt people like you who are my friends.”
She says this gesture is one step toward changing the society they live in. And it’s the core of the mission of Salaam Shalom, an organization she founded with Rabbi van de Kamp. Salaam Shalom, which means peace in Arabic and Hebrew, has one simple but ambitious goal: to keep the conflict between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East from spilling over to Amsterdam.