Category: Travel

Two Synagogues in “Mokum” in the Golden Age

How 17th century Amsterdam was the safest place to be for persecuted Jews…

2synaguogesGerrit Adriansz. Berckheyde – The two synagogues in Amsterdam c. 1680-85

A recent exhibition at the stunning Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam brought me face to face with this wonderful quiet cityscape depicting the two synagogues that were built in 17th century Amsterdam and still exist today.

The synagogue on the left belonged to the Ashkenazi Jews (completed in 1671), the one on the right to the Sephardic Jewish community (completed in 1675). The Amsterdam Sephardic community was one of the largest and richest Jewish communities in Europe during the Dutch Golden Age, and their very large synagogue reflected this.

BigSynagogueThe dedication of the Portuguese Synagogue in 1675

Amsterdam, colloquially called “Mokum” in Amsterdam slang (“Mokum” is Yiddish for “town”, derived from the Hebrew “makom”, which literally means “place”) was a safe haven for the persecuted Jewish communities throughout Europe. The sephardic Jews came mainly from Portugal and Spain, the Ashkenazim mainly from Poland.

imagesThe “Great” (Ashkenazim) Synagogue

Many of the new Ashkenazi immigrants were poor, contrary to their relatively wealthy Sephardic co-religionists. They were only allowed in Amsterdam because of the financial aid promised to them and other guarantees given to the Amsterdam city council by the Sephardic community, despite the religious and cultural differences between the Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazim and the Portuguese-speaking Sephardim.

EtchingEtching by Jan Luyken, “Kerk-Zeeden ende Gewoonten die huiden in gebruik zijn onder de Jooden” (Church rules and habits practised today by Jews) – Amsterdam – 1683.

Emanuel_de_Witte_002Emanuel de Witte – The interior of the “Esnoga” (Portuguese Synagogue) c. 1680

More on how Amsterdam colloquial language and consequently Dutch slang is peppered with Yiddish words in a later post!

De Mazzel!

(Amsterdam “speak” for Mazel Tov)

The Way of the Knife…

Swiss Army Knife: with this tool you will be able to get out of (nearly) every hairy situation

SAChampSwiss Army Knife “SwissChamp”

Since the discovery the oldest tools recently in Kenya, dating back 3.3 million years, it is not surprising to find that the tools were very sharp flint knives:

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The Bare Minimum

 Zoran, the most “unknown” famous fashion designer

ZoranAmerican Vogue – Photographer Arthur Elgort – 1983

Few fashion designers can boast a cult following while being practically unknown to the wider public as New York based Zoran. Mysterious, secretive and completely disregarding “fashion”, Zoran has endured as a fashion designer of mythic reputation. So secret are his collections, one can only buy from his showroom by appointment…that is; if you have his unlisted number! (I do give some “Create the Look” tips at the end of the post.)

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Window to a Lost World

“The Archives of the Planet”: Albert Kahn’s amazing photographic & filmic encyclopedia of a lost age.

Mongolia_1Mongolia – imprisoned woman – 1913

In 1909 the millionaire French banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn embarked on an ambitious project to create a colour photographic record of, and for, the peoples of the world. As an idealist and an internationalist, Kahn believed that he could use the new autochrome process, the world’s first user-friendly, true-colour photographic system to promote cross-cultural peace and understanding.

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The Lives of Others…

Voyeurism in real life and movies

TTSS2 2 copy

In the brilliant adaptation of John Le Carre’s spy novel “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, one of the best scenes is the British spy watching the Russian delegate in bed with a floozie, as his wife is entering the apartment. You see all this from across the street through a succession of windows.

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