This afternoon, I visited one of Europe's most renowned Jewish museums: the "Joods Historisch Museum" of Amsterdam. Amsterdam was home to one of the longest-thriving and best-treated Jewish communities in Europe, for at least 500 years; like everywhere else in Europe, though, it was all but decimated by the Nazis, during the Second World War. The museum is located inside what was once the long-time Jewish quarter of the city — it's built on the site of the old Great Synagogue, the restored version of which is part of the present-day complex — and it gives an extremely well-presented overview of the history of Amsterdam's Jews, from medieval times through to the present.
One of the more interesting things that I did today — more interesting than my aimless wandering, at least — was to visit the 500-year-old Jewish Ghetto of Venice. In this quiet and (to this day) gloomy-feeling corner of Venice, there's also a modest little Jewish museum. I went and gave myself a brief tour of the museum: but there isn't much to see here, just two or three rooms of Venetian Jewish memorabilia (e.g. siddurim, torah adornments, various household silverware), and a little bit of history; I spent more time downstairs in the bookshop, where they have some very interesting titles. I declined from going on the tour of the Ghetto synagogues: pity, since apparently this is one of the best-preserved and most impressive sights in the Ghetto. Amazing to see that the place has survived, and is still inhabited by Jews, to this day.
This was it: today was Adam's barmitzvah! In the morning, we had the service and the torah call-up; and in the afternoon, we had a colossal lunch in the shul hall. All of this was at the conservative synagogue that my cousins go to, just down the road from their house in Newton Center. Adam did a great job on stage: read his portion very confidently, and gave a solid and well-intentioned speech. And needless to say, the lunch was scrumdiddlyumptious.
Adam's barmitzvah celebrations began tonight, at the Goldstein house, with a fully-catered shabbat dinner. Big crowd — much of the extended family arrived this evening, mainly from New York and Philadelphia — and plenty of new (and very distantly-related) relatives to meet. The food was great, and it flowed from the kitchen in copious quantities. A very nice, heimische start to the simcha.
So I'm walking down 2nd Ave in New York, looking for a place to eat. And what do I see, but a store that claims (in bold letters) to sell "New York's best egg cream". So what do I do? Of course, I go into the store, and I say to the (Pakistani) guy behind the counter: "give me an egg cream please". No — actually, I'm not a bald 50-year-old Jewish man, I'm an Aussie backpacker; so I say "I'll grab an egg cream thanks, mate". And I must say, it did taste pretty good. You don't have to be Jewish to understand this — but as they say, it wouldn't hoyt. :P
Anyone who tries to claim that you can't backpack around the world — going from one party hostel to another — and still keep Yom Kippur: you're wrong. It's possible, and I did it. Following on from the evening service last night, today I spent most of the day once again at the local Chabad house, here in downtown BA, praying for atonement and keeping the fast. Once again, a very nice day of services, and a good turnout of people to help make it happen.
This evening I returned to Chabad la Metayel, here in the downtown district of BA, for the start of Yom Kippur. Despite the fact that they weren't giving out any free food tonight (since you have to fast on Yom Kippur), there was still an ample turnout of long-haired Israelis. They did a very nice Kol Nidrei service, which went for about 3 hours; it was a bit harder to follow than usual, since they don't have any machzorim with English translation — but I still managed to stay on the right page throughout. I'll be back tomorrow, for the rest of the prayer services.
Buenos Aires is the most Jewish city in Latin America, and one of the only places on this continent where you can find kosher restaurants lining the streets, and orthodox Jews roaming the sidewalks. As part of my bike tour of BA today, I also included a tour of "kosher street" — otherwise known as "busca al yok" (lit: "spot the yok") :P. Just as Sydney has O'Brien St in Bondi, and Melbourne has Carlyle St in Caulfield, so too does BA have Calle Tucumán in Once. Everything Jewish you could ever want is here: religious bookstores; orthodox schools and kindergartens; and best of all, kosher parrillas (steak houses)! Dad, if you ever visit BA, now you'll know where to go.
I spent the second day of Rosh Hashanah much as I did the first: that is, praying and eating (and plenty of both) at "Chabad La Metayel", here in downtown Buenos Aires. We did a lot better with getting a minyan this morning, which was good: the service had already started when I arrived; and we had time to do it properly, with all the singing and the joy that really (in my opinion) makes a shul service special. And as with yesterday, we had plenty of shofar sounding interspersed throughout the prayers; and a long and cosy (and totally over-catered) lunch in the afternoon.
As I've already mentioned numerous times lately, Argentina has fabulous wine, and it's available here in ridiculously cheap abundance. Today, at the Chabad Rosh Hashanah first day lunch, I tried some kosher Argentinian wine for the first time. Sorry, but I can't remember the brand (can't find it online, either). The verdict? About what you'd expect. It was the best kosher wine I've ever had. And the worst Argentinian wine I've ever had.