"I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." --Peter Singer (Author, Animal Liberation)


A Vegan Jew Goes to Europe

I'm a little behind on blogging, so I might as well start off with the reason why I haven't blogged in the last few weeks: my trip to Europe.

It's pretty easy to find vegetarian food in London, although I'm not certain that it was all vegan. One pub offered tasty vegetarian Lincolnshire sausages for breakfast, and many other mainstream restaurants offered basic vegetarian and vegan fare. It was exciting to be able to get late-night pappadum and chutney from the many Indian eateries around town. A home-cooked Shabbat dinner at a Chabad house was probably the best meal I had in London, even though I couldn't eat the main course.

I wanted to see Sikh guards sans bearskin hats at Buckingham Palace, but not surprisingly, I saw guards with fur hats.

I savored a delicious vegan ragout croissant (featuring tofu, seaweed, leeks, and curry) at a vegetarian restaurant called Bolhoed. I greatly enjoyed a tofu dish at one of the many Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam; Indonesia was a Dutch colony. I had looked up sayings in Dutch about vegetarian food, but Amsterdam was so tourist-driven and English-friendly that I didn't have a chance to use them.

Readers might recall that in heebnvegan's debut post four years ago, I discussed my questionable Dutch heritage. I carried copies of my grandfather's birth and bris certificates around Amsterdam, but I didn't have a chance to talk to anyone about them.

I went to the Anne Frank House right around the time when news reports were circulating about the 50-year anniversary of the film version of The Diary of Anne Frank. The following day, when I was taking pictures at a fast-food eatery, an onlooker said to me, "Why don't you buy something instead of taking photographs? Are you Jewish? Probably." We still have a long way to go in combating anti-Semitism.

I did get to use my foreign-language tips for vegetarian eating quite a bit in Italy. Marinara pizza was a common option on many menus, so I didn't even have to special-order pizza without cheese. I'd been told in advance that virtually all pasta in Italy has egg, so I looked the other way when ordering gnocchi and other pasta dishes, so long as I asked for them without cheese. I enjoyed some nice vegetable soups and side dishes with Cannellini beans, but for the most part, I had to make a special effort to order side dishes with vegetables and beans so that I wouldn't only eat carbs. The most unique dish I had was vegan kebab in pita-like bread at a vegetarian restaurant in Milan.

Much of Italy was on vacation for the month of August. I didn't get to go to Chabad houses or elsewhere for Shabbat dinners while in Florence and Rome. I did go to shul in both cities, though, and the Florence synagogue in particular is beautiful and on par with Italy's duomos as far as splendid art and architecture are concerned.


  • At 10/03/2009 1:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I just happened upon your blog, and I feel I have to comment about your remark concerning Dutch anti-Semitism. First of all, the Dutch are probably the most upfront people on the planet. They will say anything that comes to mind. Tact and circumspection are not their strong points. I would not interpret that remark at the Anne Frank House as anti-Semitic. It reminds me of a similar case when I was visiting Leeuwarden in Friesland with a Dutch friend. We had just parked the car when a man came up to us and told use that if we parked in the next block it would only cost us half as much (a savings of a few cents). After the man walked on, my friend said, "Oh, those Friese they are so cheap!" And I replied, "But YOU are moving the car!"

    In fact, the Dutch are aware of and proud of the role Dutch Jews have played in the history and the culture of the Netherlands. A great many Dutch people have Jewish ancestry. One Dutch friend of mine is very proud of his Jewish grandfather. He has catalogued what he calls his Jewish traits, primarily his sense of humor--and his wonderful Jewish nose. All of my Dutch friends have volunteered to take me to the Anne Frank House, but I have refused to go because it would be too painful (the same reason I have refused to see Schindler's List).

    I was affiliated with the Catholic University of Nijmegen (now St. Radboud). There are two main buildings on campus: the Erasmusbegouw and the Spinozagebouw, one of theirs and one of ours. Although Nijmegen was destroyed in Operation Market Garden in September 1944, the old synagogue still stands, but alas the Jews are gone.

    The Dutch language has incorporated a lot of Yiddish, derived from the Jewish community of Amsterdam (the people Rembrandt lived among and painted). Once I was watching an American soap opera with Dutch subtitles. One character called another 'crazy'; the sub-title said 'mesjokke' (the Dutch spelling of meshuggah). In an article on the Tour de France, the last cyclist in that day's stage was called "de schlepper van de dag' (the schlepper of the day). The common way to wish someone luck in an upcoming event (like an exam or a competition) is to say 'mazel'. Of course when we say Mazel Tov, we mean congratulations for something that has happened rather than good luck in something that is about to happen, but mazel is mazel.

    In all the time I spent in the Netherlands, I have encountered only one incident of what I would call anti-Semitism. In Nijmegen there is a sort of a theme park called Bibelland. The Bishop of den Bosch (whose diocese includes Nijmegen) complained that Bibelland depicted too many Jews. I gather that his idea of a proper Bibelland would be Nebuchadnezzar, Pharoah, Uriah the Hittite, Haman, the Queen of Sheba, and Pontius Pilate, no Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, not even Jesus and Mary. Anyone who thinks a Bibelland should be Judenrein has gone beyond anti-Semitism to drooling moronhood IMO.

    Because I do not look stereotypically Jewish--I am extremely fair and have a tiny straight nose and gray eyes--I have been taken for Dutch, Irish, Austrian, Polish and even Estonian (I have no idea what Estonians are supposed to look like). Therefore people who are anti-Semitic don't bother being careful about they say to me. I never heard any "behind the back" anti-Semitic remarks from the Dutch. If you want to know where the anti-Semites are, go to the Tyrol in Austria. Oy vay! The Germans are always vey careful to mention that Hitler was Austrian.

    A very interesting novel about Jewish life in the Netherlands through the centuries is In Babylon by Marcel Moring (o umlaut).

    Meantime Gut Yontiff (or Chag Someach). Enjoy your tofu in your sukkah.

  • At 10/03/2009 1:58 PM, Blogger heebnvegan said…

    Chag sameach, and thanks for your 2 cents.

    First of all, the incident in question occurred the day after I visited the Anne Frank House, not there. It occurred at FEBO, a fast-food eatery.

    I appreciate the context you offered. Even if I conceded that "Why don't you buy something instead of taking photographs? Are you Jewish?" were just characteristically Dutch bluntness not associated with anti-Semitism, there's still more to the equation. He paused for a few seconds when I didn't respond, and said very matter-of-factly, "Probably." It'd be one thing if it were just some common cliche, much as people in the U.S. often say "gypped" (although I avoid it because I think it's offensive in essence to Gypsies) without thinking twice about it. But he paused, as if for reflection, and then repeated/affirmed the stereotype against Jews.

    I think audience and context are always important in determining whether something is offensive. I use the word "heeb" in the title of my blog, but it can be offensive in some contexts. The magazine "B*tch" aims to retake that word, and of course there are other epithets that people look to reclaim.

    I don't know what the man at Febo intended or thought. I do know that I felt uncomfortable because of what he said.


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