May 24, 2024
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May 24, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

After three days in Holland we had a “kosher driver” from Antwerp pick us up in Amsterdam and drive us to Antwerp. It turns out that this driver, who only does long trips, actually does the driving only as a sideline, which he is now stopping altogether. During the trip he talked about how he is now employed by the OU (reporting to Rabbi Genack) and that after several months of training he is now responsible for inspecting chemical companies for the OU. He also leins, is a baal tefilla, blows the shofar, teaches bar mitzvah boys and writes the speech for them etc. and is the Gabbai in the shul at the seaside resort named Knokke. I asked him whether, since he seems to do everything already, he also does a bris but the answer was negative.

In Antwerp we were in a small hotel right across the street from the main shul and within walking distance of several kosher restaurants. Dorothy’s relatives lived not far away and the hall where the wedding was going to be was just around the corner.

What was interesting about our stay in Antwerp was that the Jewish community is mostly chasidic, of different sects, with different types of traditional clothing. To me all Jews are Jews, eastern, western, Ashkenazi or Sephardi, chasidim or Lubavitcher. But due to my background in Germany, then Washington Heights and now in New Jersey, seeing a shtreimel with or without white socks is a rarity. I therefore found the circumstances we were in very special.

All of Dorothy’s relatives from that side of the family are chasidim, and they turned out to be some of the most friendly and outgoing people I had ever met. The fact that, although only distant relatives, we had nevertheless come from the US to join in their simcha, was much appreciated by them and there was nothing they would not do for us to make our stay more comfortable.

Friday afternoon, a few hours before the onset of Shabbat, we had a perfect spot from our hotel window overlooking a main intersection for viewing the activity on the street. At times the street would turn black with groups of men hurrying home, or groups of women, naturally all dressed in black, running for the last-minute shopping. Men and children on bicycles zig-zagging in between, balancing bundles or shopping bags in their arms. And then suddenly the activity stopped. As I walked to shul one could see only men with children going in various direction. I am sure there were any number of shuls and stüblech in the neighborhood.

The wedding was scheduled for Wednesday night. Weddings in that community are in two parts. The first part is around 5 p.m., which is only the chuppah and everything that is directly connected to it, and then everybody goes home. Dorothy and I were wondering where the chosson and kallah were during the interval. Anyhow, a few hours later everybody gets together again, all dressed up (more so than for the chuppah), woman in their finest, best jewelry on display. And then the chosson and kallah enter and the party and seuda begin.

During the seuda I was seated on a table between two relatives, both naturally wearing the shtreimel, except when they were not wearing it, namely when it got too hot or heavy or both. In the middle of the conversation with one of them he suddenly asked me whether I would like to try on his shtreimel. After much thinking, for about a second or so, I agreed under the condition that someone would take a picture. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity of showing the folks back home what a yekke looks like in a shtreimel. Someone said I look like I had just bitten on a sour lemon. Actually, I was surprised how uncomfortable, heavy and hot the shtreimel felt.

I understand that after most of the guests have left, the immediate family stays on and celebrates with dances.

We had an early morning appointment with the kosher taxi (this time driven by the young man’s mother) to take us to the Brussels airport. We therefore left before all the festivities were over.

I had promised you this would not be just another travelogue, and I don’t think it was. I hope you enjoyed reading about this as much as we did living it.

Norbert Strauss is a Teaneck resident and Englewood Hospital volunteer. He frequently speaks to groups to relay his family’s escape from Nazi Germany in 1941.

By Norbert Strauss

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