It was winter and cold outside. Inside, much-needed warmth spread through our synagogue - a Shabbat morning service celebrating the graduation of our conversion class. More than 50 of us crowded into our prayer room. One after another, smiling graduates were called to the bima for their first aliyah. Zivah, Li'el, Tovah, Efrat bat Avraham v'Sarah and Eli, Joshua, and Raphael ben Avraham v’Sarah.
The service was special in another way, too - it marked the HIAS Refugee Shabbat (see Rabbi Brian’s recent article). HIAS is the leading Jewish organization supporting refugees. It helped settle the millions of Jews who fled Europe in the United States, including some of the families and ancestors of our members. Today, it offers succor to non-Jews fleeing persecution and poverty around the globe. On Shabbat, we expressed solidarity with the global Jewish movement for refugee protection.
In my opinion, the IJC is the most welcoming, open shul in Belgium. Rabbi Brian is doing a wonderful job as our spiritual leader, but we depend on volunteers to organize the other activities that enrich our community. Thank you, Imke, for putting together a well-attended tour of medieval Jewish Brussels in January. We look forward to your upcoming visit to Fort Breendonk concentration camp at the beginning of April. Thank you Rabbi Brian and a team of volunteers for continuing to welcome school groups in the European Commission-funded Neighbors program and for managing an expanding interfaith Coalition.
On February 20th a group of IJCers will attend a concert at the KVS - Royal Flemish Theatre in Brussels by the New York artist Roger Peltzman called ‘Dedication’. This concert is a unique one-man show in English, recounting the tragic story of Peltzman’s family's escape from war-torn Europe. Although Mr. Peltzman is American, his family roots are in Brussels.
And then on March 10, we are having a special event with the artist singer Tali Gross in an interactive concert. This Sunday morning workshop is called "Intergenerational Wisdom" and intends to build bridges across generations.
At the IJC, a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is always special occasion and we have several to look forward to in the coming months. Jude’s Tzedakah Project consists of starting a GoFundMe page for HIAS to support Ukrainian Refugees, https://gofund.me/b9e22fb7. He plans to deliver this donation in person to HIAS’s Brussels office. In April we have the first-ever IJC twin Bat Mitzvah with Lily and Liesl.
Unfortunately, not everything shines bright these days. War rages in the Middle East. Tension is rising at home. At the end of January, I travelled to Mons for the Fake Images exhibition opening at the Mundaneum. Holocaust survivor Arthur Langerman has collected 7,000 images of antisemitic imagery, from the 19th century Dreyfus Case through the Nazi horror to the present day. It's a powerful, troubling collection. We plan to have Arthur visit our synagogue soon to recount his tumultuous life.
We have much to celebrate. But we cannot ignore the dark clouds around us.
Anu Ristola, IJC President