Belgium
Belgium

The Belgian Jewish community currently numbers around 42,000 (out of a total population of 10.5 million), most of whom live either in Brussels or Antwerp, the two largest cities. Whereas Jews in the mainly French-speaking capital Brussels are mostly secular, the Dutch-speaking port city of Antwerp has Europe’s largest Hasidic community, including followers of the traditions of Belz, Ger, Czortkow, Lubavitch, Satmar and Vishnitz.

Belgium has 45 active synagogues, 30 of which, all Orthodox, are in Antwerp. Brussels has more than 10 synagogues, including two Reform congregations – one of them English speaking – and three Sephardic synagogues.

Whereas Antwerp has an abundance of kosher restaurants, food stores, and Jewish bookshops, such facilities are relatively sparse in Brussels, although there are two well attended community centers.

A Jewish Museum in central Brussels informs visitors about the history of Belgian Jewry.

History

Jews arrived in what is today Belgium when the Romans first settled the land over 2,000 years ago.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, a large number of Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain also moved to the Low Countries. After 1713, Austrian rule in Belgium promoted a more open Jewish society, and there was also some Ashkenazi immigration. The status of Jews in Belgium improved under French and Dutch rule as well. In 1831, Belgium became an independent kingdom.

At the outset of World War II, more than 100,000 Jews were in Belgium, many of them refugees from central and eastern Europe who were hoping to reach the New World. Some managed to escape in this direction, but considerable numbers were still in Belgium when the Germans invaded. During four years of Nazi occupation, and with the help of Belgian collaborators, 25,631 Jews were assembled in the transit camp in Mechelen (Malines) and were deported to death camps; very few of them survived. However, there was popular resistance against the Nazis, and many Belgians hid Jews in their homes. Belgium was the only Nazi-occupied country in Europe where a transport to the death camps was halted and deportees had a chance to escape.

Demography

The communities of Brussels (20,000) and Antwerp (20,000) are the main centers of Belgian Jewry. Significantly smaller communities are located in Arlon, Liege, Mons, Ostende, Charleroi, and Ghent.

Total Jewish population: 42,000

Community Life

The Comite de Coordination des Organisations Juives de Belgique (CCOJB) is the community's umbrella organization.

The Antwerp community is traditional, tightly-knit, and features a large ultra-Orthodox element. As Brussels is the capital of the European Union, the Belgian community also takes a special interest in issues on the European level. In addition, the World Jewish Congress has a Brussels office, and the European Union of Jewish Students is headquartered there.

Antwerp, with its concentration of Hasidic Jews, is sometimes regarded as the last shtetl in Europe. The Jewish involvement in the diamond trade there is such that the lingua franca on the Antwerp diamond exchange is Yiddish. When a deal is made, both Jews and non-Jews seal it by saying Mazel u'Bracha (luck and blessing) which has the value of a written agreement.

Religious and cultural life

Belgium has 45 active synagogues, 30 of which, all Orthodox, are in Antwerp. A number of these also serve as houses of study for the ultra-Orthodox sects, which are present in the city. Indeed, Antwerp has one of the largest communities of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the Diaspora-it includes Hasidic Jews who follow the traditions of Belz, Ger, Czortkow, Lubavitch, Satmar, and Vishnitz. The Antwerp community has it's own chief rabbi.

There are more than 10 synagogues in Brussels, including two Reform congregations – one of them English speaking – and three Sephardic synagogues. The chief rabbi of Belgium is appointed by the community and officiates at the country's main synagogue, La Régence, which was re-dedicated in 2008 as Great Synagogue of Europe. Both the chief rabbi and the main synagogue are funded by the government.

Brussels has two community centers which are well attended, the ‘Centre Communautaire Laïc Juif’ and the ‘Cercle Ben Gurion’.

A Jewish Museum in central Brussels informs visitors about the history of Belgian Jewry.

Whereas Antwerp has an abundance of kosher restaurants, food stores, and Jewish bookshops, such facilities are relatively sparse in Brussels. 

Synagogues

There are more than 10 synagogues in Brussels, including two Reform congregations – one of them English speaking – and three Sephardic synagogues. The chief rabbi of Belgium is appointed by the community and officiates at the country's main synagogue, La Régence, which was re-dedicated in 2008 as Great Synagogue of Europe.

Synagogues in Antwerp

Synagogues in Brussels

Synagogues in other towns

Jewish Education

The constitutional recognition of minority religions means that the various levels of government welcome independent schooling systems and provide funding for religious schools. There are seven Jewish schools in Antwerp and three (never heard about the fourth one) in Brussels. The great majority of Jewish children in Antwerp are educated in the Jewish school system and receive an intensive religious education.

Nearly all Jewish children in Antwerp are educated in the Jewish school system, and they receive an intensive religious education. The Hasidic community has historically been closely associated with Antwerp's diamond trade, although over the last decades Indian and Armenian traders have also become increasingly important.

Communal Representative organizations

Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organizations in Belgium (CCOJB)
68 Avenue Ducpetiaux
1060 Brussels
tel: 32 2 537 1691
fax: 32 2 539 2295
email: info@ccojb.be
The CCOJB is the national affiliate of the WJC

Consistoire Central Israélite de Belgique (CCIB)
(Central Jewish Consistory of Belgium)
2, rue Joseph Dupont
1000 Brussels
tel: + 32 2 5122190
fax: + 32 2 5123578
email: danconsis@online.be
website: www.Jewishcom.be

FORUM: Der Joodse Organisaties
Lange Herentalsestraat 48
2018 Antwerp
tel: +32 (0)3 231 58 48
fax: +32 (0)3 232 52 62
email: fjo@fjo.be
website: www.fjo.be

Information for visitors

The Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels houses a collection of religious objects dating from the 16th century, as well as documents and books that illustrate traditional Jewish home life. In addition to objects that illustrate Jewish customs throughout Europe are a number of pieces, including textiles and silver, made in Belgium.

Jewish Museum of Belgium / Musée Juif de Belgique / Joods Museum van Belgie
21 Rue des Minimes,
B- 1000 Brussels
tel: +32 (0)2 512 19 63
www.mjb-jmb.org
Sun-Fri 10-5; closed Saturdays

The Jewish museum does not address the fate of Belgium's Jewish population during World War II; although there is a separate National Monument to the Jewish Martyrs of Belgium. The monument consists of a platform centering on a menorah made of chains and a wall bearing the names of 23,838 Belgian Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. The gardens surrounding the monument include a flowerbed in the shape of a Star of David. Close by is a smaller memorial to the Jews who fought in the Belgian Resistance, and there is also a small museum on site.

National Monument to the Jewish Martyrs of Belgium / Memorial National aux Martyres Juifs de Belgique / Nationale Gedenkteken der Joodse Martelaren van Belgie
Rue Emile Carpentier and Rue de Goujons,
B - 1070 Brussels

The former 'Caserne Dossin' transit camp in Mechelen has been restored as the Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance

Israel

Belgium and Israel enjoy full diplomatic relations. Brussels is also the seat of the Israeli ambassador to the European Union.

Aliya: Since 1948, 4,000 Belgian Jews have emigrated to Israel.

Embassy
40 Avenue de l'Observatoire
1180 Brussels
Tel. 32 2 373 5500
Fax 32 2 373 5617
http://brussels.mfa.gov.il

Jewish Media

Among the main publications of the Brussels community are Contact J and Regards, both in French. In Antwerp, the leading Jewish publication is Joods Actueel, in Dutch. Individual organizations also produce magazines addressing particular agendas, such as the Israel-focused publication, Le Fax de Jerusalem, and 'Los Muestros' which is dedicated to Sephardi culture. There are also several other publications in Yiddish. The Brussels community also boasts its own radio station, Radio Judaica.

The Brussels based European Jewish Press is the only online Jewish news agency in Europe.

Youth

There are 5 Jewish youth oraganisations in Belgium:

  • Bnei Akiva (Brussels & Antwerp);
  • Habonim Dror (Brussels);
  • Hanoar Hatsioni (Brussels & Antwerp);
  • Hashomer Hatzair (Brussels);
  • Jeunesse Juive Laique (Brussels).

which co-operate together as 'Brit Hairgounim Hakhaloutsim'

Kosher Food

 

For up to date information on Kosher restaurants and locations please see the Shamash Kosher Database

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