Meeting Our Neighbors

 

The IJC is about to start breaking down the barriers. We are launching a program in Brussels called ‘Getting to Know Your Neighbor.’  Sponsored by the European Commission, the project offers members the possibility to break down the barriers with our non-Jewish neighbors. Eight other progressive communities across Europe are joining us in this exciting venture.  If you are interested in participating, please contact me.

 

This innovative program, conceived at the Liberal Synagogue of Amsterdam, started in 2011 as tensions between Dutch Jews and Muslims were rising. Almost four-fifths of students in the neighborhood schools around the Liberaal Joodse Gemeente Amsterdam came from an immigrant background. 

This is similar to our synagogue. Security concerns make it hard for us to welcome non-Jewish visitors.  Guests must send in their personal details 10 days in advance and guards check their details before allowing them to enter. 

Instead of building even higher walls, the Amsterdam community found a better way to ensure peace and understanding:  “Leer Je Buren Kennen” (Getting To Know Your Neighbor). Teenagers from local schools come into the synagogue for a morning or an afternoon of exchange. Young people of all different faiths and worldviews get to know Judaism in a relaxed way. 

In November 2021, we received a grant to test the project. Take a look at this short article and video. During our exchanges we confronted prejudices and stereotypes with humor. Teenagers were invited to ask questions openly with no taboos. The visits ended with refreshments - in our case, rugelach baked by IJC member Mark Silverstein. 

The European Commission has now granted financial support to this program as part of their campaign: ‘Tackling Antisemitism and Xenophobia through Education and Interfaith Coalition Building’. IJC is looking forward to welcoming new youth groups after the High Holidays and is putting a team together to carry out the program. 

We’re breaking barriers in other ways, too. Rabbi Brian and IJC’s Berlin-based diaspora member George Perlov are organizing a hybrid Pride Shabbat on May 14. We look forward to seeing you there in person or online.

The IJC fills a special place in the Belgian Jewish landscape. From the beginning, our goal has been to be the most welcoming and open of all the Jewish communities in this country. I’m happy to see that we are living up to this ambitious pledge.

Anu Ristola

IJC President