Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Road Trip: Amsterdam

The Bijbels Musuem, “where Bible, art and culture meet in a monument full of history,” is located in Amsterdam’s historic canal district.  The museum houses antiquities, scale models (including those of the Tabernacle and Temple) plants, animals and souvenirs.  In “Journey to Jerusalem” you can immerse yourself in a 360 replica of the Western Wall plaza.  Aroma cabinets allow you to sniff Biblical scents, while the garden is planted with date palm, almond, acacia, and more. Located on Herengracht 366-368.
A ten minute stroll across two canal streets brings you to the factory where Otto Frank’s pectin company operated, and where he and his family hid during the Holocaust.  There you can see the swinging bookshelf concealing the narrow stairs to the “after-house.”  The tiny area upstairs contains Anne’s shared bedroom with “Mr. Dussel,” the pasted pictures on the wall a poignant note of a life cut short.  Most striking of all is how this cramped and narrow space held the lives and dreams of eight people for two years.  Located on Prinsengracht 267.




A half-hour’s walk (or brief tram ride) brings you to the heart of old Jewish Amsterdam.  In very close proximity you’ll find the Jewish Historical Musuem, the Portuguese Synagogue, Rembrandt’s house, and the de Pinto House.
The Jewish Historical Museum is created out of four adjacent Ashkenazi synagogues no longer in use: the New Synagogue of 1752, the Great Synagogue of 1671, the Obbene Shul of 1685, and the Dritt Shul of 1700.  You can find out more about these shuls here. 

The permanent collection of the museum encompasses over 13,000 works of art, ceremonial items and historical objects.  Only 5% are on display at any one time.  The museum’s resource center includes 43,000 books, brochures, documents, photos, and audio-visual material.  Located on Nieuwe Amstelstraat 1, near the Plantage.



Just across from the museum, as the crow flies, is the Portuguese Synagogue.  Known as the Esnoga, this 17th century synagogue was founded by Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 and then from Portugal in 1497.  The building was built by Elias Bouwman in 1675.  The synagogue is still in regular use by the congregation.  Since it is not wired for electricity or heat, the congregation does not pray there during the winter, so if you want to join their service, summer is an ideal time to do so.  The coat closet contains cubicles for the black top-hats worn by the men during prayers, each marked with its owner’s name.
The synagogue complex also holds the Ets Haim library, founded in 1616, with many unique books and documents of great historical and cultural significance. Located on Mr. Visserplein 3.


A five minute’s walk from the Esnoga is Rembrandt’s House, the 17th century house and studio where Rembrandt van Rijn lived and worked.  The artist used the local Jewish population as models for many of his compositions, most famously in “The Jewish Bride.”    Located on Jodenbreestraat 4-6.
One minute away is the Pinto House, an Italian Renaissance house owned by Isaac de Pinto.  De Pinto escaped the Inquisition in Portugal and went on to become a founder of the East India Company.  De Pinto bought the house in 1651 and had it renovated by the same architect who designed the Portuguese Synagogue.  The building was almost demolished in the early 1970s in order to put up offices and a four-lane highway, but was saved by the De Pinto Trust and some local demonstrators. The de Pinto family rose to prominence in the New World as well, even taking an active part in the American Revolution. Located On Sint Antoniebreestraat 69.
The nearly 400 years of Jewish history in Holland has been largely concentrated in Amsterdam, known by all its inhabitants as “Mokum” (Hebrew for “the place”).  It’s still going strong, with today’s Jewish community located south, in the Amstelveen area, where there are a number of shuls and three Chabad centers, including one just for tourists!

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