February 21, 1677, fell on a Sunday, so it happened when the landlord and his wife were away at church. Just as it is this year, it was the weekend before the start of the Lent season. If they knew their tenant was on death’s door, they may have stayed home instead. They just didn’t know.
My great-grands in Axel had a front-row seat to a wide sweep of history. Maybe they weren’t sophisticated and citified, but they got caught up in the social movements and major battles of their time. They helped shape the country borders that exist to this day.
An apology is in order, and I owe it to my great-grands. So here it is: I’m sorry I thought the lot of them were a bunch of boring clayhoppers.
With its long history and despite its troubles, it’s hard for me to imagine Amsterdam without its Red Light District. It’d be like imagining Amsterdam without its coffee shops. But that’s another story.
We are our stories, and our stories don’t just deserve to be told, they need to be heard. It’s more than a shame that so many of these stories were never heard during the time their storytellers were alive. But we have a chance to hear some of them today.
Amsterdam in 1655 was a boomtown: bustling, crowded, welcoming ships from around the world into is busy port. In other words, it was ripe for an outbreak of plague.
Right-wing alarmists complain that political correctness runs amok. Imagine their despair to learn the Amsterdam Museum banned the phrase “Golden Age.” The reason: the golden years weren’t golden for everyone. But terms like “Golden Age” make history more accessible, and god help us, we need to talk about our history more if we want to change our future.
In the 1590s, the newly independent Dutch Republic looked to flex its economic muscle, but stronger, more-established nations like Spain and Portugal stood in its way. Their ships blocked the way to wealthy trading ports in Asian nations. Besides, even without their interference, the trip to the Spice Islands (now known as Indonesia) took the better part of a year. What was desperately needed was a faster route to the wealth of Asia that bypassed the military threats of European rivals.
Enter Willem Barentsz.
During its Golden Age, the Dutch Republic became a hub of many things: the spice and sugar trade, diamond crafting, master artworks – and optics. Why the Netherlands?
If there’s one thing that separates humans from the other animals, I’d say it’s our immense talent for creating divisions among ourselves. Of creating an “us” vs. a “them.” Of tribalism.
Jews, I’m sorry to say, are no different.