The Bookcase that Changed My Perspective

By Mike Kerr

Growing up my family went to temple every week, celebrated the Jewish High Holidays both at home and with the congregation, and the kids went to Hebrew school once a week. My family kept a library of books on our religion in the basement as our temple had no permanent location, and rented a local church for our once a week gatherings. Overall I was very interested in my religion and quite strongly believed in God.

Somewhere along the way my perspective on religion as a whole changed. I took a philosophy class in high school, and while it did briefly look at the earliest origins of the major world religions it also lead to a lot of questions, and much personal research after school. I wouldn’t say I turned my back on Judaism, but began doubting religion as a whole. As I learned more about what groups had done in the past in the name of “God” I no longer felt I could put faith in something or someone who had been the justification behind such atrocious acts. While there were also great things done in the name of “God,” in my mind they could by no means outweigh the bad.

The first time Steven and I went to Amsterdam, we visited Anne Frank House; this is both the story of that experience, and of a new path that opened for myself. When I first walked into the lobby of Anne Frank House, I was surprised to be greeted by an open and warm space with large windows, and bright wood finishes. Even once the tour began, I found it hard to believe that such a seemingly nice space could have housed from what I remembered such a dark history. Shortly after the tour began this all changed: the group followed our guide into a room with no exit, and one single bookcase suspended above the floor. The guide started to explain how we were about to enter an annex of the original house, a space that was not recorded on the blueprints, the key to the Nazis in World War II not finding the Jews hidden within.

At this moment I couldn’t even begin to imagine what would strike me after walking through the now open space in the wall. When I got to the front of the line and stepped through I was hit by the most inexplicable chill I had ever experienced (up to that point). On the outside I still felt like it was the mild October day it was, but just under my skin, the same place you get that itch that just won’t go away, I was cold. It really did feel like this space had just crawled under my skin, the memories and emotions that had transpired there found a way in and hugged my from the inside. Yet on the surface, everything was normal. We walked through reading original passages of Anne Frank’s diary, viewing clips of Holocaust survivors and hearing their story.

I won’t give away the actual physical characteristics of the space, photography is strictly forbidden within the Annex and as such, I think it is something better experienced in person.

But that feeling changed me. It gave birth to something that has kept me traveling to places in the world that have deep spiritual histories. Most importantly, that day, that feeling, connected me with something outside of my physical world. I still don’t believe in God, or I don’t call it by that name anyways. But there is something out there, not in a book, or recorded in scripture and rules, it lies in the actions and emotions that are left behind, something so strong that it hang on and waits, it sits and waits for whoever might find it, crawls under their skin with no notice, and connects them with the space they are in. You can’t see it, or read about it, or hear it, it is something I don’t think I will ever be able to describe as accurately as I want to, but as long as it is waiting for me, I will find it and let it in.

Related Posts:
Exploring Warsaw and Auschwitz & Auschwitz II / Birkenau
Netherlands Posts:
Quick Eats in Amsterdam
Destination Wedding – Amsterdam
Getting Around Amsterdam, from Straat to Gracht
Tip Toe Through Acres of Tulips at Keukenhof
Rotterdam – Gateway to Europe

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