Yom Kippur in Amsterdam: Excerpt

On a late-September afternoon that looked misty from inside the Schiphol terminal, Jake Glaz got off the Nice flight and decided to have lunch before taking the train into Amsterdam. Although it was only two o'clock, he was already worried about not getting enough to eat before sunset: it was the eve of Yom Kippur. His sole reason for stopping in Amsterdam was to avoid having to atone while in flight over fathomless waters. Jake Glaz, who used to be called Yasha Glazman, wasn't too keen on a two-day delay in his return home to Baltimore, where he ran a division of an international travel company. But there was nothing he could do: Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, was the only holiday that Jake observed "religiously."

Devouring his second sandwich with Dutch herring that tasted nostalgically like "red fish," the cured salmon from his Soviet childhood and youth, and washing it down with Groelsch, Jake recalled the vacation he had just spent with friends on the beach and promenade in Nice during the mornings and at the roulette tables in Monte Carlo in the evenings. He and Erin had come up with the idea of a September trip to the Riviera during one of their weekend trips to Annapolis. Fluttering flags over the bay, oysters and blue crabs, cadets in celestial uniforms, yachts striating the horizon. Attributes of summer by the sea always made Jake yearn for a Riviera vacation during the "velvet season," when the Mediterranean heat has subsided and the French vacationers have already gone back home after their annual August respite.

"Sweetums," Erin had said to him in her voice that was playful and yet knew no irony. "Weren't you recently reading something about Nice? A story-by Mr. Chekhov, or was it by Mr. Nabokov?"

They had been together for almost two years, and Jake loved her terminal innocence. He thought Erin was a classic American girl: German Irish, smiley and light-hearted, thin and freckle-faced, all long legs and small breasts, sneakers, jeans and big sweaters. He marveled at her capacity to live by common sense alone. He never fully understood how she could comfortably combine an in-depth knowledge of her immediate surroundings, her hometown, her fashion magazines, her government job with a languid indifference to the larger picture of the world. It's not that Erin didn't want to learn. She actually managed to memorize all the occasional bits of Jewish history that he would share with her while driving someplace or in bed after lovemaking. Yet she was always content with the small slice of life that had been served her on a green paper plate.

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