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what am Amsterdam-azing time!

I’ve just returned from Amsterdam on a trip planned by an organization called the European Center for Jewish Students (ECJS).  I only have good things to say about this organization and the event in particular.The organization is run by a chassidic couple living in Brussels, Belgium just a stones throw from the European Union Commission (from where the heart of the European Union pulsates).  Zevi Ives, from Liverpool, and Sarah Ives, from San Diego, have moved to Brussels to try and find ways for Jewish students and young professionals opportunities to interact, whether for social or networking purposes.  In their efforts, they have managed to begin to build quite a network, connecting people from the furthest regions of the Europe (even attracting a little American like myself).  Whether if it is their weekly shabbos dinners, which are filled with laughter and singing or their many social occasions, the life force seems to be one which is only growing as students and young professionals alike realize the beauty of a connected Jewish community, even if dwindling Jewish populations make this reality a bit more challenging.From a black-tie New Years party, to boat rides around the canals of Amsterdam, ECJS developed an event which could allow Jewish people of different backgrounds to interact and see the strong fabric which exists between the Jewish people.  During my time, I was able to meet French, British, even Irish Jewish people and they all warmed my heart with their whit and warmth.In leaving Amsterdam, it was a bit bittersweet as it seemed that the various American Jewish communities held even more potential, but this potential wasn’t being realized by the various city’s leadership.  This, perhaps, might represent an unfortunate threat to Jewish Identity, which is that of acceptance.  In the depths of Europe, where anti-semitism is an expected plague, Jewish people seek out methods to realize their faith.  However, when secular communities accept Jewish people with open arms, the internal rejection seems to be much more prevalent.Although this might seem to be an answer-less question, there seems to be an answer in the approach held by ECJS.  ECJS didn’t fill their events with educational seminars on Torah or Israel (although it was available), they featured posh events and allowed for secular cultural gatherings, something which anyone could enjoy.  The key element was that these secular experiences were shared by Jewish people.  Most didn’t know one another, but everyone was happy to go to the pub and buy one another drinks, just out of sheer happiness to be together.I can vividly recall stepping off of one on the party cruises for a moment, when I heard two Irish fellows cursing up a storm.  They weren’t angry or even unhappy, it’s just how they interact.  In listening to them, along with their physical appearance, I would have never guessed them to be Jewish.  As we walked along they started telling me jokes and what, and to my surprise they were two Jewish Irish blokes.  I was astonished, Jewish people in Ireland?  I suppose we eat Latkes and they eat potatoes?The party wasn’t really something that tickled any of our fancies, so we left.  Leaving at 12.30 am, we stumbled around Amsterdam for another 4 hours, going from pub to coffee shop to eatery, one after another.  It was fabulous, I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed so hard in my entire life.  Based on this interaction, it gave me a certain goal for what should be aspired for when designing an organization.  We were different people, with different backgrounds, but a common thread.  The cultural elements needed to be secular as to diminish an added social tension of too many confines, thus making the events themselves appealing (avoiding people sneaking off…mostly). I just really hope that an organization like ECJS can be realized in America, because if it could that would be really great. 

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Written by Joe

12 January at 4 am

Posted in muse

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