Saint Louis Landmarks: United Hebrew Congregation

For some of these blog posts, finding information on the history of a landmark can be hard. Luckily, it seems the United Hebrew Congregation doesn’t lack any historical context. The most remarkable historic fact at first sight is that this is the first established congregation west of the Mississippi river. The congregation was founded around 1837, and hired their first rabbi in 1854. To put this into perspective: St. Louis had less than 20,000 residents in 1840 (and 160,000 by 1860, so it’s safe to assume this rabbi saw his congregation explode in numbers, if only he stayed longer than a year). Those increasing numbers made St. Louis a large city in just two decades, and undeniably the Gateway to the West, from where all pioneers would waver out westwards.

Like all those immigrants, the location of the congregation kept drifting west, too. Their spiritual founding was close to the Mississippi river on 2nd street, their first building on 5th, their next on 6th, then to 21st, on to Skinker (so far west, the city stopped naming their streets), and lastly followed its members to the suburbs in Chesterfield in 1980. From there on, it still operates and keeps being the first in some things. In 2006, they commissioned a Torah to be written by a woman, and today they indeed read from the world’s first Torah scroll written by a female scribe. I guess the United Hebrew Congregation can’t wait for the moon to be colonized; another first to be claimed.

This blog post is part of a series on landmarks in Saint Louis. Every week, I take one of the 250 landmarks selected for the 250th anniversary of the city and look up some information. This way, I hope to get to know my new city a little better every week together with you, my readers.


Denying The Crisis With Whole Foods: A Hands-on Tutorial

Let’s talk about the economy for a change, because even though signs of recovery can be seen here and there (I have seen a few jobs for bilingual Chinese/English speakers, which makes me 2/3 qualified for those), Missouri isn’t exactly leading in recovery rate. As money gets tighter, it is good to realize you can only spend every dollar once. For example, shopping at certain grocery stores will absolutely help you run your budget an extra mile. Thankfully, some companies are more than willing to help you save. Whole Foods, for example, has a ‘back-to-college’ diet, a strategy that kills two birds with one stone, as college students live in a perpetual state of financial crisis anyway. And they might even keep some customers otherwise looking for other options, because the only people that normally combine the concept of saving money on groceries with shopping at Whole Foods, are the people working at the Whole Foods marketing department. But let’s give them a fair chance.

Well, I for one cannot think of one store that competes with our prices.

“Well, I for one cannot think of one store that competes with our prices.”

I like budgets, and as I was saving up for my Missouri travels, my college diet was pretty simple. Once a week, I made a giant meal of pasta or rice, ate 1/5 of it and dumped the other portions in the freezer, lasting those portions for two weeks, because I switched between the rice and pasta meals, and also ate with others now and then, or at my parents’. For breakfast I had some yogurt with the cheapest cereal I could find (Aldi) and some fruit, and for lunch I packed a few sandwiches. For drinks, I had coffee ($.22 per small mug) and water (free). But me and my open mind are anxious to see how Whole Foods can convince me otherwise.

Drum roll, please!

Drum roll, please!

Actually, they also start the day with yogurt and cereal. We’re off to a great start. Maybe their cereal is a little more expensive, but I’m sure it’s also healthier. But before we get to celebrating, let’s see what else is in their lunch box: string cheese, frozen meals, deli meats, and nut or seed butters (their $8.99 sesame tahini has ‘big savings’ written all over it). To clarify their frozen meals, an other brochure will tell you they do indeed mean the ready-made ones you find in the frozen meal aisles. How about snacks? Well, to be fair, I’m no expert here. I didn’t use to snack, but ate my lunch sandwiches spread throughout the day and had a bottle of water at all times. Don’t despair though. With Whole Foods, you don’t have to look so cheap. Consider the following options for snack and drink time: fruit strips, nutrient-enhanced water, coconut water, energy drinks, soy crisps, granola bars, and best of all: soy, rice, hemp, coconut, or almond milk. Their college shopping list goes on to include cleaning supplies and personal hygiene, two categories that in my experience blend very well when you just turn your 2-in-1 shampoo and body wash into a dish detergent.

And even though they don't encourage driving too much, the good people at Whole Foods can help you pick a car for college, too!

And even though they don’t encourage driving too much, the good people at Whole Foods can help you pick a car for college, too!

Of course, college life is bound to have more to tackle than just crazy snacks and weird drinks to substitute the tap water that comes at no extra charge. Not to worry, Whole Foods has got you covered. As they say, ‘When you’re constantly running to class or study groups, accidents and little things are bound to happen.’ One look at the list of provided remedies gives an accurate idea of what exactly can happen when you walk from one class to another:

  • Multivitamins: because we wouldn’t want to contract scurvy just before your exam is about to happen.
  • Arnica gel: when walking on campus gets your body strained, you should have been walking more in the first place.
  • Astragalus: to battle that psychology major sneezing in everyone’s face as a field study.
  • Real Aloe Vera gel: skipping class should not come with the punishment of sun burn.
Even though their list may seem so inclusive, some problems just cannot be tackled with vitamins or aloe vera.

Even though their list may seem so inclusive, some problems just cannot be tackled with vitamins or aloe vera.

Maybe the American college experience is miles apart from the Dutch one, but I can’t help thinking that Whole Foods is over complicating life at least a little. If you want to save on snacks, not snacking is an excellent strategy. If your milk sounds like a medical treatment for celebrities doing a cleanse, maybe you should just have a beer instead. And for thousands of years, water without added nutrients has helped mankind stay put. As much as I like organic food, I think Whole Foods has gotten out of college a little confused.

Transitional Life: I Guess This Is Goodbye Then

The end of a series, the end of my life as I knew it. In a few hours, I’ll be on a plane to Dublin. From there on, as if I wanted to be slowly let down in the warm bath that is the United States, I’ll make a stop in Chicago before I set foot in Saint Louis, my new home. I have written this post many, many times in my head. The last few days were days full of goodbyes. I hate them; both the days and the goodbyes. REM sings it in what I believe could be their best song, I feel it in the eyes full of tears that are burning in my neck whenever I (had to) leave miss Missouri, and it’s evident in the handshakes of friends that may be the last in a long time: “it’s easier to leave than to be left behind”. I’m going to build a new life in a new country, together with the love of my life and the best friend I could ever have. And still, I hate leaving.

Whenever you leave your country, you come to love it more. I’ve seen it in this last year. The national anthem has a little more meaning, history gets just a little more personal and my home town is a jewel amongst other cute little towns. Every goodbye suddenly stands in the perspective of today: my leaving. It’s not that I won’t come back, it’s more that it will be coming back rather than having been there.

And I'll probably have to buy some new shoes, too.

And I’ll probably have to buy some new shoes, too.

At the same time, maybe not on a last night, I know that this is what I want. Sometimes, it’s not about easy. I get to build a life on a clean slate, something others would hope for. I have the freedom to be on two continents whenever I want and I will be staying in a country that welcomes new dreams, my enthusiasm and hopefully will keep attracting me for years to come. I have realized that I am more Dutch than I would have ever known if I’d only stayed here, but I also know that I am more American than most Dutch could be. In the believe that combining two worlds may bring out the best in people, I am bringing my own world to Missouri. Sure, it won’t be visiting anymore, but as long as it feels new enough, I will keep blogging. For now, I leave you with a song that captures my mood like no other, and a promise. Sure, it’s in German, but it’s engrained in Dutch culture. Best of all, the text and music dance together to tell you what I would want to tell you. The promise is a little poem that I wanted to write, but I want to look over it once more, because it turns out I’m horrible at poetry. I’ll have tomorrow in a lot of airplanes to see it again. Now, it’s time to go to bed. Early flight in the morning.

I’ll translate the text in the comments 🙂

Travel Tuesday: Gobble Gobble Gobble (Part I)

This November, I was in Turkey with miss Missouri. As part of this blog deals with various travel tales, let me tell you about my visit to Turkey. We spent four days in Istanbul, two in Antalya and two in Selcuk. Today, let me take you on an (expensive) carpet ride through a city not longer known as Constantinople. Prepare yourselves, this city is huge. According to Wikipedia, it’s Europe’s biggest city (13 million people living there) and I have little reason to doubt them. As you may have noticed, I like to focus on little anecdotes about my travels (but feel free to ask more in the comments), so this part will focus on my experiences in a Turkish bath house.

A place for relaxation and rest, most unlike more western water parks.

After finding our hostel, we went on discovering this city. The chaos in the streets was typical and really added to the overall experience, but the rain drove us into the most relaxing bath house experience of my life. Apart from one moment. I have had massages before, but even I got uncomfortable by the level of touchiness. The guy giving my massage turned me on my back and started to rub my belly (I wish I was kidding). His movements tickled me, so I started laughing, only to see him smile back at me. Here he was, rubbing my abs and smiling at me, his head hovering less than two feet above mine. Not as relaxing as it should have been, I tell you.

Don’t let this picture distract you. The guy rubbing my belly looked nothing like this.

The overall experience was sweaty and relaxing, though. One of my favorite moves included a bowl of lukewarm water that was poured over my head as I sat sweating. I still can’t believe how good it felt. I have to try and find a way to copy that move, because now I still share the experience with the intimacy of a stranger rubbing my belly while staring into my eyes.

A few months ago, I was asked by The Exhibition List to write a review on the Saint Louis City Museum. I visited the museum two weeks ago and wrote them a review. Because I think it fits my own blog, too, I’ll simply reblog it. Don’t worry though, I have tons of original and new things lined up.

The Exhibition List

An extra special thank you to our friend Bas over at the enlightening Visiting Missouri blog for his post on the City Museum in St Louis – I’m dying to go there and am very excited to read about!! Congratulations  to Bas on the news he will no longer be ‘visiting Missouri’ as his girlfriend accepted his proposal and  he’s going to move there…

exhibition listIf you’re planning a visit to the Saint Louis City Museum, don’t let the word museum fool you. Even though the City Museum is truly a museum, there is hardly anything you can’t touch and the place is full of kids. Located inside an old shoe factory, this museum is essentially a giant playground disguised as a maze. No two routes through the museum are alike, as the path you go is determined by physical appearance, flexibility and how easy you can find the kid inside…

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