|With Heleen (Kopuit) and Jacky Borgenicht, at the|
Portuguese Synagogue 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|
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.