The Brussels Jewish community’s Passover celebrations will go on as usual this year but with a few additional guests — namely security guards, police officers and heavily armed soldiers.
Security measures at Jewish sites in the country will be heightened during the Passover holiday in light of lingering security concerns following last month’s terror attacks in the Belgian capital, according to representatives from the Jewish community.
“Passover Seder events will be held, as they are every year, but with increased security, of course,” Rabbi Menachem Margolin, director of the European Jewish Association, said in an email.
Following last month’s terror attacks in the city, which killed dozens and injured hundreds more, most of the Jewish community’s Purim holiday celebrations were canceled for fear they would be targeted for further attacks.
“The feeling in the community isn’t great. There’s a lot of fear,” said Dafna Friedman, a spokesperson for the Europe-Israel Public Affairs organization, a pro-Israel lobbying group that works with the European Union.
Though Israeli, Friedman has lived in Brussels for the past few years with her husband and children.
Late last week, representatives from the various security agencies came together to discuss plans for the upcoming Passover holiday, which will begin on April 22.
“The heads of the security groups — both government organizations and private companies — met in Brussels to discuss the general security situation in Belgium, with an emphasis on the Jewish community in light of the upcoming holiday,” she said.
They stressed the importance of close cooperation to protect the Jewish community since it is “constantly vulnerable to threats,” but not much was said beyond that, according to Friedman, since the community is already on high alert for terror attacks.
“They did put more of an emphasis on security. The police have given additional forces, and there are already soldiers that guard Jewish institutions,” she said.
‘At every Jewish institution there is a military presence and direct connection with the police’
Immediately following the March attacks, Belgium raised its terror threat level to the highest possible. In the days that followed, however, that was brought down, except for in the country’s Jewish institutions, which remain with heightened security.
Yet some in the Jewish community, including Friedman’s husband Ronen Gan-El, have expressed concern over the efficacy of those Belgian security forces.
“We can’t trust the authorities here,” Gan-El told The Times of Israel after the March attacks. “This is a new thing for them. They react hysterically. They have no idea what’s going on. You see the cops are very agitated, the soldiers are very agitated. You feel like they don’t know what to do.”
Since the Brussels Jewish Museum was attacked nearly two years ago, the city’s Jewish sites have been closely guarded by private security personnel, police and Belgian soldiers.
“It’s never comfortable to have the feeling that you need this extra protection,” Friedman said. “Especially when every day you go to drop off your kids at kindergarten, there are two commandos standing at the entrance.”
Though it may be an uncomfortable situation, Friedman and the other parents “really, really appreciate” those commandos, she said.
“We make sure that those soldiers feel like they’re a part of the family. We bring them cake or other sweets to nosh on throughout the day,” Friedman said.
The show must go on
Despite the elevated threat level, however, the Jewish community will not be dissuaded from holding public celebrations, Rabbi Margolin said.
“Naturally the Jews of Belgium are concerned about the situation, from both terror in general and also from the fact that Jewish sites have been a preferred target for terrorists and anti-Semites,” he said in an email.
Rabbi Margolin, who lives in Brussels and formerly served as a Chabad rabbi, is a firm believer in the importance of Jewish communities remaining in Europe, despite the rising incidence of anti-Semitism on the continent. In November, he chastised the chief rabbi of Brussels who said Jews have “no future” in Europe.
“Judaism would not exist today had the Jews of previous generations not devotedly continued to preserve the tradition and impart it on the subsequent generations,” Margolin said.