Know Your Neighbor Comes to IJC

On November 8, the IJC hosted an exciting event  - the launch of the Know Your Neighbor project in Brussels. More than 60 students visited our synagogue. Rabbi Brian was present and IJC members served as organizers and guides.

Know Your Neighbor started in the Netherlands, at the large Amsterdam Progressive synagogue. Like us, the Dutch synagogue is located in a largely Arab neighborhood. For security reasons, the synagogue built high walls and solid doors and required a constant police presence.  Doesn’t this sound familiar?  Some members questioned if there was a different way to feel safe in the synagogue.


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Back Together – In Person

It was a special High Holiday season. After so many months quarantined or zoomed in, we were able to be back together in person. We celebrated Sukkah and Simchat Torah in our own space - and with live music, thanks to Daniel Rozas’s joyous clarinet melodies. The entire community participated in “Dancing with the Torahs”. For me, the festive period passed in a blur. It moved from one event to the next, almost without interruption.  Amidst the hustle and bustle, Brian's sermon before Simchat Torah stood out.


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Shtisel and Us

I have been watching the Netflix series Shtisel. It’s about an ultra-orthodox family living in Jerusalem. Their sorrows and joys are welcome entertainment during a pandemic year, offering a sympathetic window to this otherwise closed-off Jewish community. It reminds me of how, on my first visit to Israel, I went to see the well-known ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighbourhood but was turned away as they don’t welcome outsiders. When we later moved to Belgium, I kept my distance from the orthodox community even though it dominates official Jewish life here, particularly in Antwerp. My family became members of Beth Hillel and then later helped found the IJC. The Orthodox lived their way and we lived ours and there was no need or possibility for our paths to cross.


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Mazel Tov!

It has been a year of big changes and also some smaller ones too. At first glance, one particular change might look like a small typo. Brian no longer signs his name as a rabbinical intern. He signs as Rabbi Brian. Yes, our “student” rabbi has graduated from the Abraham Geiger Institute and become a full-fledged rabbi! The dropping of this one small word from Brian’s title is in fact a big deal for him and the IJC.  


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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.


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Looking Back, Looking Forward

The IJC is approaching its Annual General Meeting on June 6. Although we will still meet virtually, via Zoom, Belgium’s accelerating vaccination rollout means that we can hope to meet in person, at the beginning of September for the High Holy Days. Fingers crossed. For those services, IJC will use a new Mahzor from the United States. Brian will lead us, and this time not as IJC’s Rabbinical Intern, but as a full-fledged, if not yet ordained Rabbi. As the IJC evolves, I have been taking stock of our community’s near two decades.


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Our Jewish Duty to Respect the Environment

We have just celebrated our annual Tu BiShivat or 'New Year of the Trees'. It’s one of the many Jewish festivals tied to nature and the seasons. Ancient Hebrews and their descendants lived long off the land.  Rachi, the famous French Rabbi, was a winemaker. In between dispensing the teachings from the Torah, he worked on his vines. Most Jews today are city dwellers and the meaning of these land-based festivals has faded.  We need to return to our roots and honor our planet, particularly since we now face the existential challenge of climate change.


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