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Rabbi, imam and bishop to adorn Belgian stamp

Postal authority aims to encourage unity with joint photo of religious leaders

Renee Ghert-Zand is the health reporter and a feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Rabbi Albert Guigui appears on new Belgian stamp along with Imam Khalid Benhaddou and Bishop  Johan Bonny. (Bpost/Lieve Blancquaert)
Rabbi Albert Guigui appears on new Belgian stamp along with Imam Khalid Benhaddou and Bishop Johan Bonny. (Bpost/Lieve Blancquaert)

The Belgian post office, Bpost, announced that next year it will release a stamp featuring Belgian faith leaders, including the country’s chief rabbi Albert Guigui. The stamp, which will bear the slogan, “Everybody equal, everybody different,” is aimed at promoting unity and tolerance.

Rabbi Guigui, who leads the congregation at the Great Synagogue of Europe in Brussels, told The Times of Israel that last November he was invited to appear on the stamp together with Imam Khalid Benhaddou from Ghent and the Bishop of Antwerp Johan Bonny. The three were photographed standing close together and clasping hands in Antwerp by Flemish photographer Lieve Blancquaert.

“The stamp is meant to show that in Belgium, despite what is happening and what people hear in the news, there are good relations between faiths. The photo shows us holding hands, united and working together,” said Guigui, who is 70 years old and has been chief rabbi of Belgium for the past 30 years.

The rabbi thinks that a stamp can be an effective means of promoting tolerance.

“A stamp, which is something used in such a widespread manner, can get the message out to all people. What is needed is to bring the interfaith cooperation and dialogue down from the level of the religious leaders to that of the everyday people,” Guigui said.

“When people start to know and speak with one another, there is less fear,” he added.

The Jewish community in Belgium, numbering approximately 40,000 and split mainly between Brussels and Antwerp, has suffered a rising number of anti-Semitic attacks in recent years, especially in reaction to Israel’s conflict with Gaza last summer. Four people died after a radical Muslim carried out a shooting attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014. However, an Anti-Defamation League survey released in June of this year indicated that there has been a recent decrease in anti-Semitic attitudes in Belgium.

“The government is doing all it can to give us a sense of security. Security personnel and soldiers are guarding our schools and synagogues,” said Guigui.

“It’s quiet now but anti-Semitism wakes up here when there are problems in Israel. There has been terror lately in Israel, but it has been quiet here, at least for now.”

The stamp depicting the three clergymen will be officially released on October 24, 2016. As far as Guigui is aware, he is the first rabbi to appear on a Belgian stamp. However, the Great Synagogue of Europe has been featured on a Belgian stamp. That was back in 1978 in commemoration of the synagogue’s centennial.

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