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.
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.
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.
My name is Anu Ristola. At our Annual General Meeting in June, you elected me as Steve Brummel's successor as president. This a huge honor and I want to begin by thanking Steve. For more than a decade, Steve has displayed deft diplomatic skills building and growing our diverse community. He has overseen three moves and three rabbis - allowing us to emerge stronger than ever. Although many of you already know and have worked with me, let me introduce myself.
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.
If, when strolling through Jaffa, Israel, you suddenly find yourself in a neighborhood with 19th Century wooden houses reminiscent of 19th Century New England, you will have stumbled upon a footnote in history. An American Protestant sect from Maine decided to move in the mid-1860s to Jaffa. They brought all they would need, including disassembled houses that were reassembled in Jaffa. Palestine at that time was a harsh place with little in terms of infrastructure or amenities.