Thirty years ago, the Sephardic Synagogue on Pavillion Street was packed with children and teens, playing for hours and scampering around the synagogue’s spacious yard. Now, the building once occupied by the congregation is deserted and the yard is overgrown with vegetation in what has become one of the Brussels’ seediest areas.
Coinciding with increasing anti-Semitism, government-led crackdowns on religious freedoms and growing emigration by Belgian Jews, the decline of once-vibrant synagogues is an ominous indicator for the future of Brussels Jews. Nevertheless, the Jewish community is reconsolidating in the city’s more affluent south, successfully adapting to the city’s changing demographics.
The closure of two downtown synagogues reflects “more than anything the fact that Jews in Belgium and throughout Western Europe are less interested in going to shul,” according to Yohan Benizri, president of Belgium’s federation of French-speaking Jewish communities. At the same time, Brussels’ two remaining Jewish schools “have never had higher attendance.”
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