Amsterdam’s Jewish History Lives on in Language and Soccer

March 29, 2018 | Matt Lebovic
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Last week, the Mosaic columnist Philologos delved into the impact of Yiddish on contemporary Dutch slang via a thieves’ argot called Bargoens. Matt Lebovic presents some further examples, including a popular nickname for Amsterdam itself:

Many of the words [that have made their way into Dutch] have Hebrew origins, making it possible for Hebrew-speakers to fish out lef (courage, or heart), ponum (face), or brooche (blessing) in a conversation. . . .  The word Mokum, [from the Hebrew word meaning] “place,” is to Amsterdam what “Big Apple” is to New York. . . . In 1955, the Dutch singer Johnny Jordaan scored a hit with the bouncy “I Prefer Amsterdam”. . . . “I prefer to be in Mokum without money, than to be in Paris with one million,” crooned Jordaan. . . . “Mokum is my paradise.” . . .

Among its public appearances in recent years, the song “I Prefer Amsterdam” was played at the 2013 Ajax championship. As the Netherlands’ most legendary soccer team, Ajax—called “the pride of Mokum”—had several Jewish players and owners before World War II. The squad continues to be associated with Jews and Israel, but not always in a warm context.

To the south of Amsterdam, fans of rival team Feyenoord Rotterdam have been known to hiss loudly, “like gas chambers,” when competing against the . . . “Jewish” Ajax. Chants of “Jews to the gas” are sometimes heard in the Rotterdam stadium, including when the “Super Jew” fans of Mokum’s Ajax unfurl their Israeli flags and sing “Havah Nagilah.”

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