I just returned from a trip to Amsterdam and Budapest. It is part of my goal to look at each Jewish community, especially the ones that once were. And both provided me with rather amazing experiences, especially from my perspective as someone working hard to reach out and welcome in those on the periphery of the Jewish community. And while we spent time in both Jewish communities, we were in Amsterdam on Shabbat. We spent Friday evening at the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam and Shabbat morning at the Ashkenazi Synagogue.
Since it was already cold and it costs a great deal to heat the large Portuguese Synagogue, we met in the esnoga (chapel). There were perhaps 15 men and about the same number of women in the women’s gallery. And while the women were quite friendly to my wife, not one of the men said hello or asked me what I was doing in Amsterdam. I had a similar experience the following morning.
When I reported the incidents to a friend, he offered: “Maybe they are just tired of tourists?” I countered, “But I was in shul davening; I wasn’t just a tourist.” Reflecting on the experiences, I wondered whether they were indeed just wary of strangers. I certainly understood once again what it was like to be a stranger—the experience of many on the periphery of the community here. So I wondered whether others had had similar experiences or could offer an explanation. What was clear to me—the Amsterdam community, at least the synagogues that we attended could use the best practices of JOI!