March, a Month of Memory

When I returned recently to Brussels from the US, I quarantined for seven days at home waiting for negative COVID test results. It gave me an opportunity to clean cupboards and sort out papers. A pink folder caught my eye. It was marked IJC and contained all kinds of documents about IJC activities from the synagogue’s early days. The December 2002 Hanukkah party in the ISB’s cafeteria was the first IJC event, an experiment to see if we could attract more people than the usual families from Beth Hillel’s English-language Sunday School. It was snowing.


Even so, around 50 people showed up, a Hanukkah miracle. We sang Hanukkah songs. We lit the candles. Our kids twirled dreidels together, and of course, we shared a potluck dinner with some sufganiyot. This success convinced us that there was a need for an English-speaking liberal Jewish community. In March 2003, seven families, including ours, officially launched the IJC. 

The first Hanukkah party is engraved in my memory for a personal reason. My late mother-in-law, Barbara Echikson, was visiting us for the holiday season from the US. She came to the Hanukkah party with us. In the photo, she is seen at the event with my two sons, Sam, and baby Ben. Soon after she returned home, she was diagnosed with cancer and passed away the next summer. This was our last Hanukkah with her.

In two years, the IJC will celebrate its 20th anniversary. These two decades contain many memories, bittersweet as mine, but mostly happy ones. It would be great to hear about your most memorable IJC moments. Let’s make an IJC family album and collect and share all the different stories from members, present and past. Send photos if possible. When you are doing your Pesach cleaning, see if you find some items that bring up IJC memories.


Kindness to Strangers

For a second year, an online seder must replace the traditional IJC in-person celebration. This yearly reminder of how Jews fled hardship in Egypt for a better life in the Promised Land holds a profound message. We learned from our own experience to be kind to strangers as we were ourselves strangers in Egypt. Instead of concentrating time and effort on the material preparation of the seder, let’s focus on this generous message.

At our upcoming March 20 Shabbat, we have an opportunity to reflect on the current migrant crisis in Europe. Brian will lead services that will focus on refugees; and on Sunday 21 at 2pm we will hear from Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society experts and progressive synagogues around Europe about their experiences helping refugees. We should understand that an immigrant or refugee background is common for many IJC members. This seder, let’s honor the memory of our ancestors by finding ways to welcome the strangers among us.   Chag Pesach Sameach!

Anu Ristola

President IJC