Den Haag (The Hague), a slice of magic in Europe
Published in JPost
It’s late and I am tired but I cannot sleep.
I am writing this from a beautiful small hotel room in a little town called Den Haag (otherwise known as The Hague) in the Netherlands. My 17-year-old daughter is already asleep in the large bed behind me. The window is slightly open, and there’s a fresh wind coming through the long curtains.
The little town of Den Haag is a little jewel in the middle of Europe. The Royal Palace is down the road, and the High Court is a few meters away. Every corner here looks like a postcard. It doesn’t look real.
My grandmother on my mother’s side was from this little town, and I am named after her mother, Yasa Josephine. Hadassah was a name added by my parents, who worried about a girl growing up in Italy with a name like Yasa. They thought Hadassah rhymed well with it.
When I was in Italy at my parents’ home at the beginning of the summer, I found this lovely picture of my grandmother as a child. She is with her parents and three siblings, posing in their dining room in their home in Den Haag. The date on the back says October 1939 – just before the war.
My grandmother, the youngest of the family, and her parents were lucky – they were sent to the Verbot working camp (the same camp as Anne Frank), and survived. All my grandmother’s siblings died. My grandmother’s brother Rafael was killed in battle in the Dutch army and is buried in the military cemetery in the Netherlands.
I decided to take that picture back with me to Israel and bring it back to life. I placed it on my desk so that every day when I drink my coffee it is right there, black and white between colored pictures of my kids and my family.
Going on a speaking tour in Europe: The first stop is Den Haag
A few weeks later, I received a call from a European organization, inquiring whether I wanted to go on a speaking tour to a few Jewish communities in Europe. The first city that came to my attention was Den Haag, run by a lovely Chabad couple, Rabbi Shmuel Katzman and his wife, Sara. Then I would go to Amsterdam and Belgium.
What a coincidence, I thought. Out of all places in the world, this little town is interested in having me.
The final flyer was sent to me with my picture and the title “Rising above: My journey through Israeli news, politics, media and... life.” Sunday, I am in Antwerp. Monday, Den Haag. Tuesday, Amsterdam. Wednesday at Chabad on Campus for the university.
How lovely and exciting. I decided to take my oldest daughter with me.
AS WE approached the Netherlands from Belgium by train, I realized how my daughter’s looks fit perfectly where we are. She looks so Dutch – tall, blonde with green eyes. They all look like her.
As usual before I give a talk, I am always very nervous and pray to Hashem to give me the right words so that my words should be received by the people I talk to in the right way and we should always inspire each other.
It is clear that my story of my Nava (Navi) Ruth, of blessed memory – her short life and the way she inspires us every day from above, is part of my “show.” Tonight, though, in Den Haag, I didn’t feel like talking about her. Sometimes I feel like I’m almost “abusing” her memory by using her story to grab attention and inspire. I can do without it, I told my daughter.
I didn’t know what to expect and had no idea what kind of crowd I would be addressing. I was told that it is a small community, and if 20 people came they would be happy.
At 7:30 p.m. no one had arrived and I was getting nervous. At 7:40, a few people started to come. Suddenly, a woman came into the room. She is from Ashdod but has lived here for 20 years; her ex-husband is Dutch. She seemed very sweet. As she left the room I thought I hadn’t even asked her name. That’s the first thing I usually do.
We started at 8 p.m. with about 20 people sitting in a circle. I was standing in the middle, looking at each one and trying to connect. I find that talking to a small crowd is much harder than addressing a large one.
I started my speech by showing the picture of my grandmother’s family that I took from my desk. They were all pleasantly surprised.
Basically, I am from Den Haag, I told them. I pointed out my daughter, who was sitting in the crowd, and said, “Doesn’t she look Dutch!” and they clapped.
Even though I had decided not to talk about my personal story with my Navi, somehow as I spoke I felt I could get more personal with them. I tried to explain that as a mother of a child who left this world too early, the feeling that she still lives on every day by occasionally sending me “signals” is very real.
I am not on drugs, I promise, I said as they smile. We need to know how to read those signs, we need to pay attention, we need to read “between the lines,” we need to catch those signs coming from above.
When you have someone very close to you leaving you too early, you can feel it, I am sure, I told them.
THEY STARED at me in silence. Suddenly the woman who had approached me briefly, right before my talk, raised her hand as if she wanted to say something. Weird, I thought; I am in the middle of my talk. Usually, we have a question-and-answer session at the end.
Yes, I said to her, is there something you want to say?
Yes, she said.
My name is Nava Ruth.
That is my late daughter’s name. It was such a coincidence that a woman named Nava Ruth (not a typical combination of two names) was sitting in my crowd in Den Haag that same night – especially since I had decided not to talk about my daughter, feeling that I would be hurting her memory “using” her story to catch a crowd.
Tears started flowing, and I couldn’t stop them. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t talk. My daughter came to my side with a bottle of water.
Everyone was crying.
Rabbi Katzman and his wife were in shock.
The lady got up from her place and hugged me.
Now I felt I had gotten her approval from above to “use” her and not be afraid. I understood that my story without her doesn’t flow; she is part of me in everything I do.
Well, as I was saying, you need to capture the signs from above. We all laughed through the tears.
By now we felt we had become a big family. I sat in a circle with them, we all shared stories and spoke till late into the night.
This brings me back to my lovely hotel room, where I am full of thoughts and emotions.
Good night world and thank you for being so kind to me.
Carpe diem, seize the moment.
Layla tov, beautiful Den Haag.
The writer is from Italy, lives in Jerusalem with her husband and four kids and heads the HadassahChen Productions. She also hosts a talk show on Arutz 7, “Real Talk with Hadassah Chen.”