A Return to Amsterdam: Jewish Tour and A Golden Age Uncovered 🌷🇳🇱
More from The Wandering Jew: A return to a place I visited 25 years ago, and some Jewish surprises there
I last visited Amsterdam at the tender age of 17, so you can assume it was more than a few years ago.
After an 8-day trek across Morocco, I flew direct from Casablanca to Amsterdam to see Frank Cortez, my Spanish ex-boyfriend, who had since left Barcelona for greener haunts and tulip-punctuated waterways.
Seeing him at the airport after a 5-year split was lovely, and he’s been the most consistent of my exes in checking in. Just a lovely man, and time had been kind to him (he doesn’t age, but we both matured). He’s also Jewish, 50% at least, he says; one of my 3 Jewish exes from before I found out I was Jewish and converted.
I rested a lot, was greeted by Lennon—Frank’s goofy Portuguese Water Dog who yipped in recognition upon greeting me at the airport, but then seemed disinterested in playing—then we set out to the Red Light and China Town for dinner.
Revisiting somewhere from when you were younger, even by a few years, is always a strange experience. Little things changed, and sometimes big ones—and your memory is never quite right. And in the case of Amsterdam, more years have passed since my visit than had passed for me before it, and nothing looking familiar or quite how I’d recalled.
In that 1997 visit, a day trip from Cologne, my high school friend and I saw the main square, the Red Light, and visited the Anne Frank House. I had no interest in seeing it again except from the outside; once is plenty, and plenty depressing, and anyway the lines were ridiculous had we wanted to anyway.
What I did want to see was Jewish Amsterdam, past and present, so that’s what we did!
Amsterdam is a quirky, tiny, sinking hamlet, and Europe like the rest of the world had just re-opened to tourists en masse. And they came. The Red Light felt like Vegas, and I hated its frattyness. I love what it represents, but there’s nothing you can do there you can’t do most anywhere else, it’s just famed. (Weed is legal is so many places now, for example).
But it was amazing and scintillating to be back in Europe after a 4-year absence. For comparison, I visited Europe three times in one year in 2017-2018, the longest stay being 3 months. And the continent always feels like home.
Here’s what I learned during my quick stay in Holland (er, The Netherlands! We don’t call it Holland no more):
Below, a full look at the Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam; swipe / click to browse.
Next Up: Jewish Paris, and a look back at some Jewish culture in Miami. Stay safe these holidays.