You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

January 31: Amsterdam’s City Planner

January 31, 2016

oSamuel Sarphati, a physician who built the Amstel Hotel, the Palace of National Industry, a garbage-collection system, a bread factory, and a trade school in Amsterdam as he sought to improve the hygiene among poor communities, was born in the city on this date in 1813. An Orthodox Sephardic Jew, Sarphati lived in an Amsterdam of faded glory, with widespread poverty, decaying buildings, canals full of refuse, and regular epidemics of cholera and scarlet fever. In his own neighborhood, the Jewish Quarter, a third of the Sephardim and two thirds of the Ashkenazim lived off communal charity, and beggars were rife. As a doctor to the poor, Sarphati helped establish the Netherlands Society for the Advancement of Pharmacy in 1842 and the Public School for Commerce and Industry in 1845. Two years later, he started the Society for the Advancement of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, which collected fireplace ash, human excrement, and other refuse for use in agriculture. Sarphati was deeply involved in Jewish affairs as well, overseeing the reconstruction of the Jewish cemetery to eliminate flooding and establishing Jewish kindergartens so children would not have to experience Christian proselytizing at other schools. He died at 53 in 1866. During the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam, a park bearing his name (shown in the photo) was renamed — which was the first indication, for many Amsterdammers, that Sarphati had been Jewish.

“Sarphati left behind a very small estate and many debts, as most of his wealth was invested in the projects he spent his life advancing.” —David B. Green, Ha’aretz