Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Small world: Shreveport in Amsterdam

With Heleen (Kopuit)  and Jacky Borgenicht, at the
 Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam
      Perhaps the most significant "small world department" moments of our trip to The Netherlands came on our first Sunday afternoon in Amsterdam.
       With my cousin Heleen and her husband Jacky, we arrived at the Portuguese synagogue just after 4 p.m., only to find it had closed for the day minutes earlier. We learned this because two women told us this.
        They told us this in English ... or in American. Obviously, they were from the United States.
        Beatrice asked: Where are you from?
        The answer: Louisiana.
        Bea: Where in Louisiana?
        The answer: Shreveport.
         At this point, I said -- laughing -- "that's where we're from." (I'd forgotten that I was wearing a royal blue pullover top with the words "Woodlawn Knights.")
         One of the women looked at me and said, "I know you. I know your voice." Then she asked my name.
         When I told her, she said, "I thought you looked familiar. I'm Karen Gordon."
         She looked familiar; it felt as if we'd met before. Truthfully, for a moment, I confused her with someone else. When she added that she was Karen Gardsbane Gordon -- and considering this was a synagogue we were standing in front of -- I realized that I'd seen her at a few Holocaust-related events in Shreveport-Bossier and at my mother's memorial service.
         I remembered then that she'd introduced herself to us before and had heard me speak, which is why she said that my voice was "distinctive."
         Dr. Gordon -- she's a veterinarian -- and Diane Mastrodomenico (who also lives in Shreveport) were also visiting Europe and, in an e-mail exchange this week, Karen said, "I still can't believe I ran into a fellow Shreveporter in Amsterdam!  ... We had an awesome time in Amsterdam.  It is a
beautiful place.  We weren't as lucky as you, we ran out of time and never made it back to the Portuguese Synagogue."
          (Bea and I indeed did make it back to the synagogue the following Sunday and took the tour of a landmark that has been in that spot near the Waterloopplein since the 1670s, and is still has an active congregation.)
          One of the most frequently asked questions, here in the U.S. and in Holland, that I received before and during the trip was if we -- my sister Elsa and I -- have any relatives in Holland?
          I've written this previously; the answer is yes ... twice.
         The woman with whom we stayed in Zaandam, Catherine "Kitty" Kruyswyk-van der Woude, and her sister, Reena, are cousins. Their  father and my Dad were first cousins: their father's mother was a Van Thyn, the sister of our grandfather Benjamin Levi Van Thyn.
         Heleen and her younger brother Philip (who lives in Israel) were born and grew up in Amsterdam; their father, Maurits Kopuit, was my mother's first cousin. My grandmother, Rachel, and Heleen's grandfather, Philip Kopuit, were sister-brother.
          My mother and Maurits were always close; when we lived in Holland (my first 8 1/2 years), Maurits' mother -- Helena, for whom Heleen is named -- lived two houses over from us. I remember going to Maurits' wedding (to Henny Springer) in October 1955; Elsa, then 4, was the flower girl.
           And Maurits, who visited Shreveport with Heleen in 1980 (when Bea and I lived in Hawaii), was a newspaper writer and editor. He worked for the Jewish newspaper in Amsterdam for 25 years, much of that time as the editor and lead editorial writer.
           Sadly, he died in 1992, a year after my first trip back to Holland. There's enough about Maurits for me to write a separate blog, and I intend to do so at some point.

With Karen Gardsbane Gordon at the Portugese Synagoge
          Heleen brought us Belgian chocolates -- she and Jacky live in Antwerp -- and also some pictures of my family that my mother had sent them from our early years in the U.S. It was fun to see the photos again, but much more fun to see Heleen and Jacky.
          They didn't make it to Amsterdam until mid-afternoon because Jacky didn't want to miss playing in his every-Sunday soccer game. When I asked him if he'd gotten out of it without injury, he laughed and explained that it was a "friendly" game -- no contact, and players of all ages from the 60s, maybe even 70s, to pre-teens. Just a fun game, good exercise. Jacky is 56 and said he plays left forward because he's left-footed (and probably doesn't want to play defense).           Later, while I was gone, Bea and Jacky were talking about soccer, and Bea told him that Jason, our son, had played competitively as a kid for 11 years and still wanted to play at age 39 but was slowed by bad knees and more a little more weight than he when he was a kid.
           Jacky suggested that Jason could do the same as they do in Antwerp and put together  "friendly," no-contact games, and that "old man Nico could play, too."
           I didn't hear that.
          The time with Heleen and Jacky was a few hours to treasure, and the chance meeting with Karen and Diane made it even better.          
          We asked Diane to take some photos for us, and she did an excellent job. Karen sent the photos  to us this week, and I've included a couple. Nice mementos.


  1. From Heleen Borgenicht Kopuit: Love this one, Nico, but even more that we could spent time with you. Love you.

  2. From Teddy Allen: The first time Casey spent the night with someone it was with Katie Gayle and Zena Gordon, Karen’s daughter, his Montessori classmates. I think they were in first grade. Love me some Dr Gordon. ... Good effort.

  3. From Jim McLain: Glad you and Bea enjoyed your trip. It brought back memories of our visit to Holland in 1994.
    I noticed, and later included it in a travel column in The Times, that we were struck by the lack of obese people in Amsterdam. I theorized it was because of walking up stairs in those narrow houses they live in and the bicycles that are everywhere.
    Katherine is an ace at figuring out transportation systems wherever we go and we had no trouble getting around because of her expertise. We stayed in a small Best Western-franchised hotel out close to the art museums and spent one evening in a restaurant closeby where the proprietor gave us a feel for how the Dutch government operates. He said that every Dutch citizen that wants a job has one, even though the government subsidizes many of them.
    We, too, were amazed by the friendly, English-speaking people we encountered.
    We also know Karen Gordon. She raised money for the playground built on the A.C. Steere school property for handicapped children and it has been very popular with all children, including my own able-bodied grandchildren. A very nice lady.

  4. From Sonja Dubois (Dutch native, born a Van Thijn): I loved this one! That meeting was quite memorable, I am sure. More proof that the world gets smaller when we grow older.