Belgium is a relatively small country surrounded by France, Germany and the Netherlands. It has two official languages: French and Flemish. As the capital of the European Union, it is a very diverse city and there are lots of traveling European ambassadors, bureaucrats, reporters, lobbyists and entrepreneurs.
On our first day in Brussels we walked to the Grand Place, where we saw magnificent buildings covered in gold detailing. The central square was beautiful.
On our way back we passed Brussels’ Great Synagogue. The building was really magnificent, with beautiful stained glass windows surrounded with the 12 tribes of Israel inscribed in the arch. Twelve pillars stood above the stained glass and above them the Ten Commandments.
The synagogue was dedicated by President Jose Manuel Barroso and two of Europe’s leading rabbis, who signed a document of dedication as a focal point for European Jews on June 4, 2008. The synagogue survived the Holocaust, during which 25,000 Belgian Jews died. As of 2008, there were approximately 15,000 Jews living in Belgium.
For the residents and tourists who keep kosher, there were two kosher restaurants, a kosher butcher, and a kosher pastry shop. You can find information on Jewish cultural organizations, synagogues, Shoah memorials and even a 24-hour Jewish radio station available at the Belgian Tourist Office Web site.
A short train ride from Brussels is Antwerp, which has a large Orthodox community. We did not go to Antwerp, but from what we heard from local Jews, there are lots of kosher restaurants and synagogues there.
One of the last things we did was see the Jewish Museum of Belgium. Although the entire museum is in Flemish and French, neither of which I speak, there are pictures of the Jewish community from 200 years ago.
The museum shows what it means to be Jewish. It explains Jewish weddings, brit milah ceremonies other observances, such as b’nai mitzvah services and Shabbat.
They also had many pictures from the last decade of the Jewish community in the city. Another part of the museum had paintings by Arno Stern, a Polish born Jewish painter. He fled the Nazis with his parents, who settled in France in 1933. He first experimented with the Cubist style. The paintings were donated by his daughter and grandson.
For more information, log on to the Belgian Tourist Official Web site: www.visitbelgium.com.
Jennifer Aprison is a sophomore at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.