Around the High Holidays, I often point out to my non-Jewish friends and acquaintances that it is Jewish New Year. Many times the response is to ask whether there will be a big party. Of course, they are thinking that Rosh Hashanah is celebrated like the calendar new year on December 31/January 1. I sense I disappoint them when I say Rosh Hashanah actually is a solemn observance with much time in shul linked to a 10-day reflection period culminating in day of repentance, Yom Kippur.
Holding Havdallah potluck dinners 15 years ago was the basis for founding the IJC. The dinners attracted a large group which demonstrated clearly the need for an English-speaking progressive shul in Brussels. Last weekend, to mark the end of the summer season, the IJC held another Havdallah potluck as a BBQ in the backyard of my home outside Antwerp. Again, we attracted a large number of attendees - over 60 with all age brackets represented.
The IJC is on a journey whose path at times is unclear. Founded in 2003, the IJC has been a home away from home - a Progressive Jewish home - for a very diverse, multilingual set of congregants. IJC’s membership changes each year because of its nature - to a large degree made up of expats who move in and out of Belgium. Yet, even though the membership roll changes, the IJC ‘feeling’ remains the same – very open to newcomers, very tolerant to different forms of Judaism and often very intimate in its services, its school classes and its holiday events.
Prague holds a special place in Jewish history. On April 26th, making a conscious link to that history, the European Reform/Liberal Jewish movement (EUPJ) held opening ceremonies for its four-day Prague conclave at a very special location: the Smetana concert hall in the Municipal Hall, an art nouveau treasure. This was the first major Jewish meeting held there since the 18thWorld Zionist Congress in August 1933 (see photo).
Every year the world observes Holocaust Remembrance Day. For those who read this, it is obvious what this day commemorates and why it is necessary. The Nazi attempt to exterminate an entire people using industrial methods for mass murder stands as the embodiment of evil and as a warning to future generations. Among the host of ceremonies and events this year, I mention a few in Brussels and elsewhere that I found notable – some of them with links to our own IJC members.
Our civilization at its core is run on principles and values. In the rush of daily life, they can be overlooked or forgotten. Being reminded of them is well worth it to individuals and society in general. They allow society to see things in a wider context and hopefully avoid sacrificing them by, for instance, confusing means with ends. I found a good example of this in my recent tour of Washington DC.
The IJC had a great start in its new home in the Beth Hillel building with its first Shabbat services on Jan 5th and 6th. Although it was still the holiday period, the IJC had a large turnout for a special service honoring the departure of a member family (Gilly Weinstein and John Weissberg) for New York. They have contributed so much to the IJC since they joined in 2009. Gilly has been a very active Board member since 2012 and John has re-engineered the IJC web systems. The service was a bittersweet occasion.