It's almost 20 years since the IJC was launched. Back in 2003, seven families -including mine - set out to create an English-speaking Progressive shul in Brussels. Of the seven families, we are the only one that remains in Brussels.
And yet, the joint vision of the founders has prospered and dug deep roots. Nearly 100 of us showed up on Rosh Hashanah to welcome in the New Year. That’s a record, I believe. Gone are the days when we depended on visiting rabbis. We now are fortunate to have our own full-time rabbi to light our spiritual path. Gone are the days when we rented venues in the Brussels suburbs. We now are installed in a modern, well-equipped building in the Brussels Forest neighborhood, close to public transportation.
At our inception, expatriates dominated. We are proud to continue our cosmopolitan tradition of hosting Swedish, Greek, American, and other members. (For the record, I’m the resident Finn.) But over the past few years, there’s been a noticeable uptick in interest from Belgians. We now are home to strong contingents from Ghent, Antwerp, Leuven, and Mons.
Our roots are strong - the task ahead is to build and dig them deeper. Over the past year, we have made several important moves to ensure the IJC’s long-term success:
· State support: After two decades of diplomacy, we hired a lawyer and it paid off. Part of the salary of our rabbi, like all other rabbis in Belgium, is now supported by the state. Although they do not pay Rabbi Brian's full wage, they guarantee our right and the financial basis of a full-time rabbi to minister at the IJC.
· Finances: Our books are in order thanks to our new accountants and our hard-working treasurer Maria. You might have been surprised to discover a new way of invoicing, but we now know our real income and expenses and can envision strategies to raise funds for additional activities.
· Grants: We are participating in the European Commission-funded Neighbors program, which brings non-Jews into our shul for special, innovative visits. In 2021, money from HIAS and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) allowed us to run a successful pilot program. If you want to know more about the program, read here. If you are interested in participating as a trainer - a paid position - please contact me. In 2023, we hope to launch a new program to train Bar and Bat Mitzvah teachers, funded by the Rothschild Foundation.
These successes should not hide a fundamental truth: we remain dependent on volunteers and donations. Without them, the IJC could not exist. I want to give a special shout-out to many of them:
Nada, Jonathan, and Michelle for rebuilding the Hebrew School. Thanks to Michelle, too, for locating our High Holiday venue.
Peter and Gilda provide crucial support on the board.
Anneke helps with leyning.
Diana orchestrates our communications.
Steve serves as membership coordinator and wields his diplomacy to charm every new potential member.
Helen and Diana treated us to interesting lectures – now to be handled by Sarah W and Andres
Our new website sparkles thanks to Jeremy.
And finally, Sarah and Chantal have turned IJC into a place for “foodies”.
There and so many more…
While we depend on volunteering, financial support is crucial. It’s that time of the year again - when we appeal to the generosity of our members and friends. We are grateful for each donation.
I’m optimistic about 5783 at the IJC. We have many achievements to celebrate - and many more to pursue.