Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Night in Amsterdam

Written by: Dean Medina

Something really unique happens on November 6th in Amsterdam. About 26 000 people take to the streets in an event unlike any other I have seen before - Museum Nacht (Museum Night). Over 40 museums and cultural centers open their doors in this relatively small city from 7pm to 2 in the morning putting on incredible displays, shows and exhibitions. Check out for more info.

Being back in Amsterdam this past week for the sixth time in less than three years, I had a very unique and somewhat unusual experience on this night. As a young Jewish professional my mentality was different, my eyes open to a different light, I was aware of things I never really noticed or appreciated before.

This city is so extremely rich in Jewish history, but being in Amsterdam you don't really focus on what's really all around you. Once Amsterdam was a hub for Jewish activity, you would never know it now but Amsterdam is what it is today largely in part due to the strong Jewish presence that existed before the war.

With this in mind I went out on Museum Nacht with a particular path in mind: simply to seek out fascinating things about the Jews of Amsterdam. Here’s an idea of what I saw:

1.      The Portuguese Synagogue: I stepped in this building for the first time 2 years ago on Yom Kippur. There is something absolutely surreal and spiritual about standing in this ancient building that is lit entirely by candle light in the cold… there is also no heating so you can see your breath.

2.      Artis Zoo: There is something extremely creepy about being in a zoo at night, especially Europe’s oldest one. I learnt from a friend that Jews used to hide out in some of the animal enclosures for years to protect themselves from the Nazis.


3.      Anne Frank House: It was sad to see that the symbolic chestnut tree that was referenced by Anne Frank in her diary no longer stood outside the window. It fell in a storm in August.

4.      Resistance Museum: Holland is storied for its resistance against the Nazis and also for protecting Jews. I discovered that right in front of the museum hundreds of children were saved by members of a daycare by using the tram right in front of the museum as cover. They would follow the tram by foot until they reached safety and could hide the children.

5.      Old Jewish Neighborhood: Just by taking a stroll through this neighborhood brought up images of thousands of Jews going about their daily lives in my mind. There is very little evidence that they were there today except for the Jewish museum that stands as a reminder.

6.      Chanukiah’s in store windows: As I walked through the streets of Amsterdam at night I passed by antique store windows and in them often stood beautiful chanukiah’s lit up by the store light. I couldn’t help but think that these once belonged to the 65 000 Jews that perished during the Holocaust in Amsterdam.

7.      Harry Mulisch Dies: I learnt the fascinating story of this famous Amsterdam author who died a few days before Museum Nacht. Born to a Jewish mother and an Austrian father who was a Nazi collaborator (who actually saved the mother and the child). I strongly urge you to read up on him. An incredible, very complicated man.

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