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Finding my Home in Amsterdam: A Wandering Jew Takes Europe

March 3, 2019

Amsterdam is a really cool city, and while this might seem empirical, it has taken some time for me to come to appreciate this. From my apartment in the financial district, Amsterdam looks like Boston or Long Island City. The culture appears broadly metropolitan, and rather international. In other words, the shift has not been radical, or especially "shocking." This was weird at first. I expected this tremendous transition, this intense adjustment to local customs and ways of being. And when I was met with the opposite, the question of intention arose: what am I doing here, if not gaining access to a totally radically and completely different way of life?

And while it’s true in some ways this city has felt very familiar, there is of course one main exception—a lack of Jewish community, to which I am so thoroughly accustomed.

The Amsterdam Jewish population is extremely small. At first, the adjustment was a shock: mandatory orientation events on Saturday, the inherent challenges of keeping Kosher in a shared kitchen, finding few interested in participating in Shabbat meals. However, I can honestly say that over the course of the past few weeks, I've found some semblance of community here that I was not expecting; a testament to what I always knew, I guess, which is that Jews always find each other and congregate, wherever they are in the world.

What is here is precisely in my neighborhood and extremely accessible. This week I discovered Rimon, the kosher-prepared foods place, a 7-minute bike ride south from my apartment. Upon arrival I was greeted with a whole street of similar institutions: a kosher cafe, an Israeli product store, a Kosher butcher, a Jewish education center, and a Jewish-founded old-age home. I had that chance to meet Israelis in comparatively large numbers and purchase Bamba, Goldstar, and other favorite Israeli delicacies. I was absolutely thrilled. This neighborhood will definitely serve as an important resource for me, and it was so gratifying to build relationships with the Dutch Israelis, use my Hebrew, and have my questions answered about local Jewish life.

Furthermore, I am lucky to live around the corner from "Chabad on Campus"—an organization catered to bringing Jewish students together and supporting them, wherever they are. In Amsterdam there are two Chabad houses—one for families (Chabad Central Amsterdam), and one for students (Chabad on Campus). The couple that runs the Chabad on Campus House has been unbelievably welcoming and has truly made great strides to make myself and my few Jewish peers feel connected and welcome. I feel really fortunate to have access to this space, and to be living a short walk away from them. This past week at Chabad I met some amazing people—Jews from Turkey, Germany, Hungary, The Netherlands, the U.S., and Israel gathered together for a meal. A very global experience.

Additionally, the organization KAHAL has been really helpful in making me feel adjusted. They serve as students’ “Jewish Home Abroad,” and I’ve been able to use their connections to get access to the above resources, to find sponsorship for Shabbat meals, and to connect with other Jews in my city. Through KAHAL, I was also able to attend a “Shabbaton”—a weekend trip over Shabbat, in Budapest along with other Jewish women studying abroad, which was incredible!!

Overall, I would say that I’ve been able to carve out space for myself here and find the community that I need. I can confidently say, being a month in, that it’s been a welcomed challenge to reconcile my desire for travel and new experiences with the comfort and safety of an American Jewish community.

Until next time,

Rachel

P.S.- If you are curious about Jewish life abroad here in Amsterdam, feel free to reach out! Would be happy to speak with you further!

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