One week was not enough, or was it?
Rarely do I write autobiographically, but I noticed plenty of remarkable situations that I thought an exception was called for. Where to start?
For and Against Jews
It was great to hear so much precision in Hebrew pronunciation in the Spanish-Portuguese and Ashkenazic prayer services, although some mistakes I know from Israel also have landed there. Torah words spoken at the Kiddush were remarkably well put. When the People of Israel criticized Moses that the Torah is not just for the leaders, the Levites, he understood this was not a revolt against him but a sign they cared. Likewise, the government of Israel should take the present protests.
I was warned for years about the danger of anti-Jewish encounters. I had to avoid one. A group of Iranian dissidents were demonstrating in the heart of Amsterdam. ‘What are those flags?’ my daughter wanted to know. Cynically I replied: ‘The rifles on them mean they want peace. But they seem to be the Iranian opposition, I added.’ Our good Mizrachic friend disagreed with my ease. ‘They may be against the present regime and for democracy, but that doesn’t mean they like Jews. Here, they spotted you and shout Jew, Jew.’ Now, I know that the Iranian population never was anti-Jewish, but these gentlemen looked very fundamentalist themselves with their uncut beards. So, I decided not to push our luck any further.
Fifteen years ago, at a visit of a few days, I asked the chief rabbi whom I met in the synagogue: ‘How do you walk the streets in Amsterdam?’ He said: ‘I don’t; I have a car.’ ‘And on Shabbat?’ ‘Then, I ran.’ How shocking!
The next most unpleasant after the almost Iranian meeting this time was a sweetly smiling lady who told me I should leave my high school to which we paid an unannounced lightning visit. The English teacher, librarian, lab assistant, and students in the restaurant were the greatest. Warm and friendly. My daughter’s Dutch was not good enough to understand that the lady’s warm smile was a fake, accompanied by the words that Jews are not welcome. Because one thing became clear. The Jewishness of my presence was unavoidable for most. They liked or hated me as a Jew.
Stares I remember from before 30 years ago when I was still living in the Netherlands. People getting off their bikes, looking as if seeing a dinosaur, staring at me until I turned a corner. Dutch culture forbids gaping at folks. When the Dutch are gazed at, they ask: ‘Am I wearing something of yours?’ Outside of Amsterdam, I only saw one person staring—stuck in the middle of the street. All the others were really warm and friendly—like me. In Amsterdam, there were two more, related categories. People who stared, but when I looked at them, quickly turned their heads while ‘secretly’ peeking at me from the corners of their eyes. And then there were people looking into the distance as they passed as if I wasn’t there. I heard that this unfriendliness is widespread and ever-present today there. So, it could be just general hostility against all of humanity. Hostility because in Dutch culture, you don’t ignore people. You don’t have to greet everyone, but you don’t look past them. But all Black men and Asian people I saw were very different. They smiled at me, said ‘Hi’ in passing, and so on. Shop and restaurant personnel were impeccably friendly and sweet everywhere.
One couple of police persons were only flabbergasted when we found ourselves stuck on a lone bus lane with no way to escape. They helped us find our destination. Another three at night were much less friendly. We had made a wrong turn and were scolded. Agreeing with them saved us a fine. They said: ‘You deserve a fine, but since you are from outside of Europe, you can only pay by credit card at the police station, and we don’t want to go there now, but we’ll write you up.’ Our GPS was terrible. Besides pushing us into closed lanes, it led us to destinations 10 to 20 km from what we had requested. It could not distinguish between the City of Utrecht and the Province of Utrecht, and the Village of Westerbork and the Concentration Camp of Westerbork, etc. The locals had to help us.
Climate and Other Changes
There was hardly any rain. The fields were still lush green but this used to be the country that said: ‘This year, the summer fell on a Wednesday.’
My friends, without exception, were worried about the state of nature. Fields that used to sound like concert halls now were eerily silent: no birds. Some thought that was caused by a lack of insects. It used to be that when you came off the highway, you had to remove thousands of fly corpses from the windshield. Now the number is zero. Hardly any other insects. But before I left Israel, I saw the swallows at the Kotel, two months after they should have flown to Europe already. It’s not only a lack of food.
Waste separation seems to be done by most. The variety of specialized garbage bins is awesome. For brown, green glass, and colorless glass, shoes and other leather stuff, plastic and metal, you name it. Recycling stores boom too. I bought a classical giant Samsonite suitcase not for Euro 400 but for Euro 10. Enough room for all the books I bought. Speaking of books, in Amsterdam (but I was told all over the Netherlands), every block or so, you find bookcases in the street with free books. No need to return and no limit on how many you take. Classics, rarities, books falling apart, but also very expensive books in excellent if now new condition. It seems Paradise on Earth has arrived already. The Netherlands is still a great and comfortable place with great friends, but it is not home (anymore).
I’m always full of puns, jokes, and witticisms. I found they come up much more frequently in Dutch than in English or Hebrew. It was also nice to quote so much of Wim Kan, the hero of my youth, without translations and explanations. This Friday, he passed away 40 years ago. Not enough reason to move back to the old country. But it was nice while it lasted.
We flew ElAl. They made me very happy, if not delighted, with nearly everything. Heartily recommended. In my feedback, I did ask them to supply working and free Wi-Fi. Hours without Internet not on Shabbat, while forced to sit, isn’t of 2023 anymore. (This post is not sponsored.)