Not Kosher, But Definitely Jewish
100 Years of Ajax
In Leon de Winter's novel Supertex, Max Breslauer,
son of Simon, meets Esther d'Oliveira, a Jewish woman. Where do
they go on their first date?
They drink a bottle of champagne at De Meer, and during an
exciting moment in front of the Ajax goal, Esther grabs Max's
hand. She holds it for the rest of the game. 'We were two of
the last to leave the stadium and we couldn't stop our passion
anymore on the steps in the catacombs of the stadium. We
embraced and nervously kissed for the first time.'
Esther doesn't even know the rules of the game of football,
but by taking her to Ajax, Max sort of tells her: "We're both
Ajax is not a Jewish club. It's always been a club of -
mainly - white Christians. Nevertheless, Jews have something
special with Ajax.
Inside his office, around the corner of the ArenA, Uri
Coronel, vice president of insurance company AON Nederland,
tells his Ajax story.
"I was born there, almost. We didn't have any family, they
had all died, hardly anyone came back. But we had a very large
circle of friends, 99% Jewish, and almost all the men went to
I ask whether Ajax was a place to meet other Jews to his
"Indeed, it was. You met plenty of Jews over there. But you
need to see that in the right proportion: if I say 'plenty', I
mean 'a few hundred'." I say that that's a lot, in a country
with hardly any Jews. "It's a lot", says Coronel.
Does it annoy him that Ajax officials keep saying that Ajax
doesn't have anything to do with Jews?
"To those people the issue doesn't exist. We see a hundred
Jews and say: that's a lot of Jews. They see a hundred Jews and
say: see? It's nothing. Or they do not see they're Jews at
There are other places where Jews meet. Sal Meijer's
sandwich shop, the Jewish institutions, and the synagogue for
those who go to the synagogue in the first place. But there are
more football fans than religious people in Holland, these
Ajax is the main thing that connects Jews, even inside the
synagogue. When the club played AC Milan in 1994, on Yom
Kippur, people were standing outside the synagogue, listening
to the radio, which is forbidden on that day. The more devoted
people were inside, but were told about the goals.
You could find it scary that Dutch Jews feel the urge to
meet one another. You could call it some sort of racialism. But
Jews in Holland just have different experiences than the people
around them. Living among non-Jews, always aware of the void
around them (the huge synagogues with no-one inside, only half
a table of relatives at weddings), they experience permanent
solitude. Ajax fills up the void - a bit.
Rob Cohen sits at a table in Soccer World restaurant, one
arm over the banisters. He's at home here. Cohen doesn't like
football, but Ajax is his 'hood club. Ajax is to him what De
Kuil was back in the old days, on Rembrandtplein: not kosher,
but definitely Jewish. It mildly annoys him when Michael van
Praag says that Ajax is not a Jewish club.
Cohen: "He's completely right - formally. We are not under
rabbinal supervision here. However, you could consider whether
you should rub that in."
Ajax seems to be denying its Jewish aspect in an almost
panic way, sometimes. In the time of the UEFA Cup games against
Hapoel Haifa, Evert Vermeer told every newspaper about the
swastika flag hoisted over De Meer in 1938, about the Wehrmacht
being stationed there and about the dismissal of Jewish
members. It sounded as if Ajax was rather 'wrong' than
A hundred years is a nice age to become a grown-up. Ajax
could now say: 'We proudly acknowledge the Jewish aspect of our
identity. We will commemorate the thousands of Jewish fans that
got killed during the war with a statue of Eddy Hamel inside
However, Ajax is getting less and less Jewish these days.
Outside the ArenA there are ABN-AMRO posters saying 'the
sponsor'. Thirty years ago, they would have had the mugs of
Caransa, Kroonenberg and the Van der Meydens on them.
The Amsterdam Jews are now middle-class and hardly produce
any Mullers and Swarts anymore. Marcel Peeper, son of an
Amsterdam textile trader, was the last 25% Jewish player who
made it to the Dutch national team, via Ajax-2, Haarlem and FC
Twente. After only 18 minutes in his first and only Holland
game, in Kiev against the Soviet Union, on 28 March, 1990, he
broke his leg.
Even the stands have become less Jewish. In the 1970s and
1980s there were ten to fifteen thousand people at De Meer,
mainly Amsterdammers. There are thirty to fifty thousand at the
ArenA, mainly non Amsterdammers. The Jews are still there,
concentrated in a few sections, but they seem to drown, among
so many people. Ajax has become less of an 'Amsterdam club',
says Sjaak Swart. "It is of course nice that those people from
out of town come to watch Ajax, but..."
Coronel was the man behind the construction of the ArenA.
"We just had to", he says. "But it does have consequences. The
culture has changed, that's for sure."
The ones who surprise me at the ArenA, are the ones who are
not there: the dead Jews, of course, but there's just a
tiny handful of Turks, Moroccans and Surinamers. Strange, right
in the middle of Amsterdam South-East.
It's an Amsterdam phenomenon. I've lived here for four
months, coming from London, to write this book. The segragation
in this city struck me every day. If you ask me, it's more
extreme than in Johannesburg, where my family comes from and
where a lot of restaurants have mixed crowds and some white
people drive to Soweto for a night of black jazz. Almost every
bar or restaurant in Amsterdam is either completely black, or
The Amsterdam Jews felt they were part of Holland sixty
years ago, apparently more than the brown and black
Amsterdammers do nowadays. The proof: they went to Ajax. They
were supporters of this institute of Dutch gojim. It
could not save them.
In a hundred years time, someone will probably write a book
about the Turkish aspect of Ajax. It will be thicker than this
© Simon Kuper; all rights reserved. Reproduction,
redistribution or re-use of any kind prohibited without written
permission by the author.