The world is filled with stories of people who have undergone remarkable transformations in their lives. One such person was Rabbi Izak Ger Graanboom of Amsterdam. The story of Rabbi Izak Ger Graanboom, also known as “The Convert,” is one of the most fascinating tales in the history of Judaism. In this blog, we will explore the remarkable story of Rabbi Izak Ger Graanboom.

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The Batavian Republic

Rabbi Izak Ger lived in an era that was referred to as the Batavian Republic. During this period, Amsterdam was already taken over by the French, who brought with them the ideals that were encapsulated in the 1789 Revolution. In 1795, the Dutch Republic turned into the Batavian republic and a lot of the locals willingly adopted some of these ideas.

A division emerged among the Jewish population since some of the Jews, who were called oranges, supported the idea of maintaining the status quo with the old regime while some Jews were against the adoption of the new values. This division became so intense that it reached to the point of physical fights and violence on the streets. The fighting eventually concluded in August of 1795 when the Batavian Republic decided to put the parnassim in charge. The parnassim is the chief administrative officer of the Jewish congregation. In order to quell the fights, these officers placed guards at the edges of the Jewish quarter in order to prevent any cases of violence.

On the other hand, the Jews who agreed to adopting the values of the French revolution called themselves “Felix Libertati,” which means “Happy Liberty.” About two-thirds of the members of this group were Jewish and their goal was to promote equal rights for Jews based on the French example. During the month of September in 1796, the Jews were liberated. The Jewish population were allowed to vote and they started to exercise that privilege. This eventually led to Moses Solomon Asser, a Jew, to become appointed as a member of the city Judiciary Committee. At the same time, Felix Libertate yearned for a similar democratization. They wanted democracy not only for the overall society, but also for the highly conservative Jewish community. However, the Batavian Republic decided to keep the old guard in place since they were the ones who have successfully kept the peace and have done well during the previous years.

The New Kehillah

In 1797, Felix Libertate separated from the single monolithic Jewish community of Amsterdam and established their own community where Rabbi Izak Ger Graanboom was appointed as the community judge. They called this community the “New Kehillah” or “New Community.” They even had their own synagogue that was called “Adat Yeshurun.” Though it was a rather small community, with an estimate of 700 members that only had about 108 paying members, it still found itself in the middle of controversy among the Jewish population.

Big changes emerged because of the establishment of this new community. First of all, they decided to make announcements in Dutch. Next, the New Kehillah insisted on singing Lekha Dodi together. They also decided to skip the piyyutim and focus more on the important prayers. Moreover, one of the most bold changes was the adoption of the Sephardic custom of eating Kitnios on Pesach. These controversial changes went on for a decade until King Louis Napoléon decided to abolish the new innovations. However, the leadership of the New Kehillah had to be re-integrated in the old kehillah and so they were able to effect a lot of policy.

Rabbi Izak Ger’s Background

The name “Ger” from Rabbi Izak’s name means “convert.” Regardless of the fact that pertaining to someone as a convert was prohibited in the Talmud, this was how the Rabbi was known for. Rabbi Izak came from a compelling family of converts from Sweden and his family history is recorded in a book written by Israel Graanboom, one of the descendants of the Graanboom family. At the end of Israel’s life, he was able to publish his family history to serve as a kind of memoir. It was noted that the patriarch of the family was Jacob Graanboom, born sometime in the 1600s in Sweden. When he was a child, he was orphaned and raised in a military family. When his mother was on her deathbed, her last wish before death was for her son to study the Torah. Because of this, there are speculations of her being Jewish and was captured in the Swedish invasion in the 1650s.

When Jacob grew up into an adult, he would have recurring dreams of his mother calling him out for not studying the Torah. Thus he went out and actually bought a copy of the bible so he could read the Torah section. Throughout his adult life, he started to slowly adopt Jewish practices. At the age of 69, he finally decided to formally convert to Judaism. Jacob Graanboom and his wife converted to Judaism along with his 8 children, including a son named Matias. However, converting to Judaism in Europe was forbidden during their time. The only place that allowed such conversion was in Amsterdam. Therefore, he and his family moved to Amsterdam in order to study and convert to Judaism. Jacob named himself Abraham, and his son Matias became Isaac. Isaac would then become an exemplary scholar of Torah and ordained as a Rabbi. He eventually became a high-level Rabbi, otherwise known as a judge, and was chosen to become the leader of the New Kehillah where he would be more known as Rabbi Izak Ger “The Convert” of Amsterdam.


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