Portuguese Cemetery Beth Haim

Kerkstraat 10, Ouderkerk/Amstel

Photo Frits TerpoortenA little outside Amsterdam, down the river Amstel, lies the old village of Ouderkerk and here you find the oldest Jewish cemetery in the Netherlands, Beth Haim (House of Life). Towards the close of the 16th century Spanish and Portuguese Jews arrived in Amsterdam, fleeing the persecutions of the Spanish Inquisition. Initially, they buried their dead in the dunes of Groet, near Alkmaar, in North Holland.

In 1614 they acquired a plot of ground in Ouderkerk-on-the-Amstel, buying it from one of the aldermen of Amsterdam. The cemetery was the first formal recognition of a (Sephardi) Jewish community in Amsterdam. A condition imposed by the Amsterdam city council was that the deceased should be transported down river by barge.

At the landing-stage on the Amstel is a wooden building used as the place of cleansing or purification, built in 1705; beside this is the so-called house of Rodeamentos (meaning, processing around in circles) where the Sephardi men process seven times around the coffin of the dead man. Traditionally, Jews of priestly ancestry, the Cohens or Cohenim, should not come within a certain distance of the dead and they are given a separate area in the cleansing house, and in the cemetery itself have to walk along specially designated paths.

Photo Frits TerpoortenThe cemetery of Beth Haim is world famous for its magnificent carved marble tombstones. Also, many prominent Amsterdam Sephardi Jews lie buried her, including the rabbi and book printer Menasseh ben Israël (whose story is recounted in the novel Escape from Hell, 2002, by the Austrian author Robert Menasse), Don Samuel Palache, ambassador to the king of Morocco, the parents of the philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) and the physician Samuel Sarphati (1813-1866), on whose initiative the Palace of People's Industry (no longer there) and the Amstel Hotel. were built in Amsterdam.  

Search online for specific names at the cemetery  .


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