Hebrew Songs, Dutch Culture

Tamar Barzelai
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Tamar Barzelai

Length of time in Holland: Total of six years, including a break of a year and a half in Israel.

Family status: A Dutch partner and two daughters, ages 6 and 18 months.

Residence: Neighborhood in the northwest section of The Hague. Two-thirds of the residents are Dutch while the others are expats working for international organizations like the United Nations or multinationals like the oil and gas conglomerate Shell.

Home: We live on the first floor of a four-story residential building, dating from the late 19th century. The ground floor was originally a fish store, and in the past the remaining three floors were occupied by one family. In time, the building was divided into four apartments, with 120 square meters of living space on each floor. The ceilings are 3.80 meters high.

Hardest things about life in Holland: The weather. A feeling of not belonging. Raising children in a place that is not yours.

Raising children in a place that is not yours (part 1): The first pair of words my daughter spoke, when she was slightly more than a year old, were “donker buiten”: dark outside. She spoke Dutch, even though I always spoke Hebrew with her. It was only after we spent some time in Israel that she started to speak Hebrew. Now she speaks Dutch and Hebrew fluently.

Raising children in a place that is not yours (part 2): On my older daughter’s first day in kindergarten, she was greeted by the teacher, Tineke, a young woman with blonde hair and a captivating smile. She instructed my daughter to join the circle. As soon as she heard that I was from Israel, she said: “Ah, there is another Jewish girl here” − and pointed to a girl with curly brown hair and boots with a Hello Kitty print.

Constant inner struggle: Trying to understand what it means to be secular and an atheist, but also a Jew who lives in Holland.

Celebrating Israeli holidays: In Israel I do it automatically, yes. But living here, I don’t feel the desire or the need to celebrate them. Maybe that will change in the future.

How to preserve the girls’ Israeliness, nevertheless: I speak only Hebrew to them, play Hebrew songs for them and show them Hebrew programs on YouTube. We stay in touch with family and friends from Israel.

Work: In the past few years I neglected my finance career due to moving around (Belgium, the Netherlands, Israel), plus raising two little girls. At the moment I am busy learning Dutch. When I finish, I intend to look for a job with one of the international companies that operate in Holland.

Learning Dutch: I decided that if I live in Holland, I have to be fluent in the language, even though one can get along very well in English. I am studying the language at Leiden University four times a week, from 9:15 until noon. The teacher, whose name is Hans, is considered to be excellent − and rightly so. He hates textbooks and believes that the best way to learn a language is to talk, talk and talk. In his leisure time he likes to write short stories and drink beer.

Origins of others in the course: Three from Iran, one from Iraq, one from Thailand, one from Brazil, one from Afghanistan, one from America, one from Greece, one from Poland, one from Belarus and one from Chile.

Longest word in the Dutch language: Hottentottententententoonstelling. It derives from the fact that once there was an exhibition in Amsterdam that displayed the tents of the Hottentot tribes. So, literally it means: “the exhibition of the tents of the Hottentot tribes.” It all connects into one word, because in Dutch, words in the construct state are often hooked together.

My favorite supermarket: Albert Heijn, a very popular supermarket chain here. Considered a bit expensive, but very aesthetic. Sane prices. We spend an average of 150 euros a week on groceries.

Family in Holland: My partner’s parents live in southern Holland, about a two-hour trip away. We see them approximately once a month.

Most different in Holland as compared with Israel: The pace here is much slower. For example, it’s rare to find children here below the age of four who go to a day-care center every day. They usually go three times a week. One day Mom stays with the children, and one day Dad, or any other combination. Part-time jobs are very common among mothers.

Cost of kindergarten: The public school system begins at the age of four, for free, every day until 3 P.M.  Before this age there are private preschools, which cost around 330 euros a month for any given day of the week: for example, three days a week would cost about 1,000 euros a month. If both parents are working, you get part of the fee back from the government, depending on your income; the higher the income, the lower the reimbursement. Recently, occupancy in preschools has fallen off somewhat, due to the economic situation.

The economic situation: Holland has a strong economy. Still, the crisis is seeping in here, too. There are budget cuts, unemployment is increasing − it’s now 6.5 percent − and the real estate market is frozen.

Real estate: A starter home, 80 square meters with a small garden, in the center of Holland, can be had for a little more than 200,000 euros. You get a mortgage of 100 percent of the price of the home, though lately the conditions for receiving mortgages have become more strict.

Longings: For Tel Aviv. To hear Hebrew around me. To enter a Hebrew bookstore. To see a play at the Cameri Theater. I come to Israel two or three times a year.

Future plans: I think we will stay in Holland for the next few years. After that, I don’t know. Israel is an option, or another country, preferably with a hot climate.

Tamar Barzelai is a CPA and former journalist.

The Barzelai-Boddenberg family. Credit: Richard Boddenberg