Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Seeing The World

One of the hardest parts of my job is the travel.  I miss the family and the trips can be exhausting.  At the same time, the travel is one of the best parts of the job.  First of all I love that on planes you get to watch movies, they bring you food, and clean up after you.  Second of all, I get the best of two worlds.  I live in the land of Israel in a wonderful community on a breathtaking mountaintop, AND I get to travel all over and see old friends, special people, and interesting places.  This last trip was great.  I saw friends from New York, Baltimore, Vancouver, Houston, and Winnipeg.  Yet, perhaps the most outstanding visit this trip was to Amsterdam.  When I was 12 years old, my family moved for the year to Holland and despite my protestations, we had an amazing experience.  After a 30 year hiatus, I just returned.  I flew KLM/Delta to the states and returning to Israel.  On the return flight I had a stop over of 10 hours in Amsterdam. Good friends of our family, Hans and Hetti Poortvliet  picked me up at the airport and gave me a wonderful day.

Hans and Hetti
My mother just reminded me about how we met them.   In our neighborhood in Amstelveen, we had an SRVman.  This was a man that drove a Winnebago converted into a mobile seven eleven!  He would drive around the neighborhood(s) and if we needed some milk or bread or some other staple (unfortunately he didn't have slurpees) my Mom would send me out to buy it from the SRVman when he drove by.  On one of my visits to the SRV van a neighbor delivered an invitation to our family to join her for coffee in her home.  That woman was Hetti Poortvliet and that invitation led to a wonderful friendship.  Years later, the Poortvliets visited my family in Houston.  Anyway, when I saw that my itinerary included such a long stop over in Amsterdam, I called the Poortvliets and made a date to meet with them.  They met me at the airport and we went back to their apartment for coffee.  Hetti did some research and found a Kosher restaurant and so I had a delicious glatt Kosher lunch.  Hetti and Hans ordered in Dutch and I ordered in Hebrew!!  From there we went downtown and visited the Portuguese synagogue.  It was really amazing!

Portuguese Synagogue from the Outside

I forgot my Tefillin in Houston and had been borrowing Tefilin since.  I was nervous that I wouldn't find a pair to use in Amsterdam.  Fortunately, the Israeli at the entrance booth had a pair for me to use and I davened Minchah at this historic site.  It was quite moving.

The round-ups were in part a Nazi reprisal for what had just happened in an ice-cream parlour in Amsterdam. The shop was run by two German-Jewish refugees, named Cahn and Kohn. The Nazi police, the Grüne Polizei, raided Koco's ice-cream parlour and were greeted with ammonia sprayed at them. The strike was organized by the underground Dutch Communist Party. The party, later known as the CPN, wrote the famous manifesto calling upon the Dutch to 'Strike, strike, strike!' which was circulated among many Amsterdam businesses early on the morning of 25 February. Throughout the city, firms went on strike: public transport, municipal work, shipbuilding and the metal industries in North Amsterdam, all came to a standstill. Large department stores, like De Bijenkorf on Dam Square, remained closed for business. The next day the strike spread to neighbouring towns and centres. The Nazi occupiers broke the strike with harsh measures. A remembrance of the strike is observed in Amsterdam on 25 February each year in the square beside the statue of the Docker.

After leaving the synagogue, we proceeded over to the Jewish Museum.  There I saw many interesting artifacts.  However, in my new found position as fundraiser, what caught my eye was a very interesting ledger.  In order to keep track of pledges made on Shabbat when it is forbidden to keep a written record, the community produced a book that included the names of all community members with a series of peg holes on the page next to the names.  When an individual made a pledge, someone could place a peg in the whole next to his name corresponding to the amount of the pledge -- a kind of Shomer Shabbat method of passing around the plate!

Munttoren Tower
Next we began our walk back to catch a bus towards the Poortvliet's home from where they would take me to the airport.  I loved walking around in the city.  Hetti, who is a former tour guide, pointed out all kinds of interesting sites.  The important canals, the old churches, medieval towers, the Amstel River etc...  Besides the charm of the city which I had not sufficiently remembered, I was struck by the massive amount of cyclists.  It was really impressive.  On the drive back to the airport Hetti was already planning my next visit so that I could see all that I had missed!  I hope I do get to go back.

The Amstel River

So Many Bikes


  1. You might not remember, but I stayed at your home in Amsterdam for a short period of time during my junior year abroad. I hope that this is not offensive, but I remember your Dad showing us (I was traveling with my roommate, Karla) a monument and commenting that it was a phallic symbol! Now I read online that there are many phallic symbols in Amsterdam! I also remember you and your Dad getting lost while skiing. Glad you're enjoying returning to your old stomping ground. Lindalee

  2. Wonderful story! Rachel (Altman)

  3. Lindalee -- I do remember your visit and I remember us getting lost skiing though I am sure my mother wishes she could forget that!!!

    Thanks to you and Rachel for your comments

  4. That's so great that you stayed in touch with your friends! I'd love to go back to Germany and check out my old neighbourhoods.

    Your story about the SRVman for some reason reminded me of our Schnellimbus. We lived in an old village at one point, and my room had a balcony that overlooked the parking lot for the apartments. Directly under my balcony, sat the little Schnellimbus van. Every afternoon, I'd have to do my homework to the smell of bratwurst and pommes frittes wafting up through my window ;) I'd give in and run downstairs pretty darn frequently!

    Glad you had a good time and glad you're back!!

  5. MMMMMM Schnellimbus (there are way to many consanants to vowels in that word and even Schnellimbus has a lot :-)

    Thanks Alissa