Traveling is a luxury and respite for many. For others it is an education on what life is like elsewhere. We hope you enjoy this issue of Jlife as our writers take you on journeys that include many experiences and perspectives. Many of the trips covered are educational, others, an opportunity to experience and gain an understanding of life outside of the United States.
My trip to Europe in the spring was part of my Bucket List. My companion and I spent a year planning, researching and detailing our two-week trip. Starting out with tulips in the Netherlands, we skirted the North Sea Coast on bicycles, courtesy of Peter at Tulip Cycling Tours. Fields of velvety tulips rolled by: red, yellow, pink, lavender, and white… Leafy green forests enveloped us, dripping from the constant rain that accompanied us throughout our stay in Europe. Yet despite the beauty of our trip, the warm people, and nurturing food, history was never far from our minds. As Jews traveling in Europe the past is always a reminder.
As we traveled through the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, my mind often wandered to a past that was not kind. In Holland I thought of the stories I had often heard from Holocaust survivors Flory and Felix Van Beek. Hidden for five years in Rotterdam they escaped the direct hand of the Nazis, but their lives were tainted by the experience and it shaped the lives they lived. Our trip in the Netherlands finished with the Portuguese Synagogue and a tour of Anne Frank’s House. Despite the warm and helpful Dutch, our trip was not without the anti-Semitism we hear about in Europe. Upon asking for directions to the Anne Frank House, from Muslim cab drivers, we were met with the offensive response of, “Haven’t you heard, Anne Frank is no longer home.” The comment left a pit in my stomach and I was shocked at the blatant disrespect. My friend, on the other hand, reminded me that anti-Semitism is not a trend of the past.
In Paris we stayed in Le Marais, a historic quarter in Paris that was home to a sizeable Jewish community until World War II. More recently, since the 1990s, Jews have made a comeback. This comeback was obvious by posters touting Jewish art exhibitions, men in kippot, and the beautiful Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme (Museum of Jewish Art and History). We did not run across any demeaning cab drivers, but we were reminded of the potentially vulnerable status of Jews in France when we saw police officers and soldiers, armed with automatic weapons, guarding every Jewish establishment.
I believe it is important to travel and understand our Jewish history of the places we travel. For us the visits to Jewish historical sites in Europe were not only a reminder of the historically tenous status of Jews in Europe, but also a reminder that we are a people of resilience and fortitude. Yes, our faith has often made us a target—but it has also allowed us to thrive.
Lisa Grajewski, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist and adjunct Assistant Professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She has been a contributing writer for Jlife magazine since 2004.