Yom Kippur in Amsterdam

Excerpt

struck Jake right away as extremely livable and free-spirited. As he walked slowly to his hotel-boat anchored on the Amstel, he kept bumping into the signs of an old city culture. He observed to himself that the citizens of Amsterdam looked bourgeois, but not at all philistine. He also gladly noted and later wrote down in his journal that young Dutch women in the afternoon crowd returned his inquisitive looks with a sensual readiness that revealed no fear of a stranger. What a beautiful place for a Jew to atone, Jake thought to himself and smiled.

After checking into his hotel-boat, Jake went to a cozy, glass-enclosed restaurant on Damrak and gorged on a delightfully unhealthy veal cutlet with thick slabs of fried potatoes. It was four o'clock, and he decided to start fasting at six-thirty. That left him with more than two hours to sort out his many thoughts in anticipation of the annual Day of Atonement.

So it's Yom Kippur, Jake told himself, finishing a second beer. Have I sinned? Was breaking up with Erin a sin? Or was it a mitzvah? How can I atone if I haven't sinned? Am I a Jew only because I couldn't, wouldn't marry Erin? Jake knew he wasn't thinking straight after the sleepless night he had spent partying and parting with his Russian friends in Nice, the early morning flight, and the beer he had drunk since having arrived in Amsterdam. He knew he wasn't aiming his mind in the right direction, but couldn't help it. What he wanted from this nearing Yom Kippur were some real answers. He began to blame himself for ending it with Erin so abruptly. I should've taken it slower, given her more time to come to grips with my reasons. The foggy air outside the restaurant changed color from blue to putty. Jake asked for a cup of coffee. Maybe I should've simply married her-and to hell with the whole Jewish thing. He remembered his first dinner date with Erin, in a seafood place in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. She didn't sleep with him for an entire month, and he almost didn't mind the deferring of sex, so much did she make him relish the prolonged foreplay. Jake suddenly felt all alone in the city of Amsterdam, craving a woman's company. He summoned the bulbous waiter and, acting a lot more drunk, asked, "Where is your vicious red light district? I've gotta check it out!"

Not one bit surprised, the waiter came back with a pocket map of central Amsterdam, resembling a page from the atlas of human anatomy: blue veins of canals, black nerves of main streets, red muscles of bridges.

"Cross Damrak and go straight. You can't miss it." The waiter bowed, accepting Jake's payment and tip.

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