Yet another month has gone by as we shelter in place. Although I would like to change the subject, COVID 19 has kidnapped our lives. It’s hard to find any news that doesn’t deal with at least some aspect of the pandemic. The Belgian government has started to relax the rules of confinement and we are hopeful that life will get back to normal. But what will the new normal look like? What does this mean for the IJC? Over the past two months, we have discovered new strengths via online communication. The IJC was an early adopter and transferred many of its activities online at record speed.
Spring is here and it feels like a vacation with the bright sunlight and warm weather - but what a strange vacation! The COVID-19 lockdown has deprived us of much of the enjoyment of this lovely time of the year. It’s been almost one month since the Belgian government confined us and there is no end in sight. Our lives have taken on surreal dimensions. We are limited to essential outings. The IJC has stepped up to fill a void.
In this moment of anxiety, we have an opportunity to explore and think creatively about our community life. In-person gatherings are cancelled but virtual meetings are encouraged - and the IJC 2.0 has sprung into action.
It has been a tumultuous few weeks. The Aalst Carnival redoubled its anti-Semitic offensive, with new floats mocking Jews echoing Nazi imagery from the 1930s. A new scare looms, coronavirus. A stormy winter reminds us that the danger of climate change is mounting. The war in Syria is intensifying, threatening a new refugee crisis. The list of calamities is long and depressing.
On January 31, the United Kingdom left the European Union. It was a sad day for many of our British and non-British members. For most of us, it is difficult to understand why the UK wanted to divorce a partner with whom it has worked profitably for many years.
The break appears pointless and irrational, especially when in today’s world networking, partnering, sharing, allying and collaborating are the buzzwords. We in IJC are in sync with the world around us and believe in alliances. Over the past years and months, we’ve taken several important steps to increase our outreach and influence, both inside and outside of Belgium.
When does Hallah become a political act? A couple of weeks ago I took part in a Mega Hallah Bake in a posh hotel in Brussels with other women from IJC. Chabad and other Jewish Orthodox groups organized the event, part of a global movement targeting Jewish women. The challah bakeoffs are popular and the Brussels hall was packed. This was a women-only event. Except for the security guards, no men were in sight. For years, I resisted attending the Mega Hallah Bake event because they are gender-specific.
The beginning of a new calendar year is the time when we are inspired to make resolutions, to lose weight, to exercise, or to start a new hobby. Although these good intentions are fueled with optimism, other responsibilities often intervene and prevent us from fulfilling them. So I stopped taking part in this well-meaning tradition, despite the many areas where I could make improvements. My abstinence ended when I saw the article in My Jewish Learning “Get Your Daily Dose of Talmud” (https://www.myjewishlearning.com/get-your-daily-dose-of-talmud/).
By tradition, the president of the IJC delivers a state of the shul speech on Rosh Hashanah. This year it’s my honor and pleasure as the new president of the IJC.
When I look back to this past year, I realize that the news is all positive. This community is thriving. We have put our finances in order and finished our first online fundraiser successfully. The move into Beth Hillel is working well. We have a new active, engaged and mostly female board in place. Rabbi Brian is, I dare to say, loved by all. Our numbers are growing. Our Hebrew School has doubled in size. Shabbat attendance is up. Some of our events attract close to 100 people and more.