donderdag 28 september 2017

Op zoek naar Hans Goudsmit. 7: Bonus Blog

The story of a mezuzah

She is a remarkable 89-year old. Her long-term memory is amazing. At one point during our conversation Mrs. B. - 'they call me Berrie' - sighs and tells me she would wish 'the lid would close', meaning the lid of her memory. The difference with my usual interlocutors is striking; Jewish ladies of her age, 'Holocaust survivors', have suppressed almost all memories, at least the ones I meet. Berrie speaks of the past and of her relatives with great fondness. She remembers every detail - and shares it with me without my asking.

I visit Berrie to collect a mezuzah - a container for a small parchment scroll with Hebrew writing (klaf) that is fixed to the doorpost of Jewish homes (Devarim/Deuteronomy 6:9). I am no more than the intermediary between her and descendants of butcher Simon Goudsmit and his wife Sophia who had their store at Oude Schans 36 in Amsterdam. In 1959 Berrie unscrewed the mezuzah from the doorpost and she has kept it ever since. It was a small treasure on the wall in her Amsterdam home. Recently she watched a tv program on a returned mezuzah, and she decided to try and find living relatives of Simon and Sophia. Someone who had read this blog put her in touch with me.

Berrie tells me she has been married twice. She has two sons, Leo from her first marriage and Herman Jr. from the second. The father of Herman Jr. was Herman Rijerkerk. Shorty after their marriage, in 1957 Herman bought the butcher store off the Goudsmits and the young couple moved in. Herman Jr. was born at Oude Schans 36 in 1958.

Herman - he passed away many years ago - was not Jewish and neither is Berrie. But some sixty years ago at Oude Schans she had noticed the brass container with the Hebrew shin character on the doorpost of their new butchery - and had left it in place. Only when two years later they moved out, she unscrewed it and took it with her. Herman and Berrie moved to the Zeedijk where for many decades they ran a much bigger butcher store.

'Oh, I completely forgot. Do you want some coffee or tea?' I tell her I would love a cup o'tea. 'With a bokkenpootje perhaps... do you know what that is, a bokkenpootje?' The literal translation is 'goat's leg', and of course I know, it is a very sweet and cheapish Dutch pastry. 'Oh, I'd love a bokkenpootje'. From a tin container she offers me... a mergpijpje (lit. 'marrow bone'; punsch-roll).

My visit to Berrie lasts some one and a half hours. She talks incessantly, her stories are interesting. She tells me that she herself, a child of the ancient center of Amsterdam, was baptized in the New Church at Dam Square. I am impressed: that is where our kings and queens marry.

Again and again I have trouble coaching her back to the central topic of our conversation, the mezuzah. Finally she hands it to me: a shining small object with the letter shin at the top and a stylized star of David in the center. It is somewhat damaged, the decoration from the circle at the bottom is missing. On the reverse side is a lid over the cavity for the klaf, and an imprint saying TAMAR 393. The cavity is empty, the klaf missing. I promise Berrie that I will send the mezuzah to the Goudsmit's granddaughter.

My visit comes to an end. I thank Berrie for the tea and the bokkenpootje. 'It tasted great', I say, meaning of course the mergpijpje. 'Yes, aren't they wonderful' she replies, '...and so cheap!' The mezuzah is on its way now to Michigan USA.