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Jewish Families from Belgium

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The Jews of Belgium: Judaism has a long history in Belgium, from the 1st century CE until today. The first Jews to arrive in the present-day territory of Belgium arrived with the Romans between the years 50 and 60 AD.

Jews were mentioned as early as 1200 in Brabant (and in 1261, Duke Henry III ordered the expulsion of Jews and usurers from the province). The Jewish community suffered further during the Crusades, as many Jews who refused to be baptised were put to death. This early community mostly disappeared after the Black Death persecutions 1348-1350, and finally the Brussels massacre, 1370.

After 1713, Austrian rule in Belgium promoted a more open Jewish society, and there was some Ashkenazic immigration. The status of Jews in Belgium would improve under French and Dutch rule as well.

Sephardim

In the 16th century, many Sephardic Jews who had been expelled from Spain settled in Belgium and the Netherlands. In addition, many Marranos (crypto-Jews who outwardly professed Christianity) settled in Antwerp at the end of the 15th century.

Donna Gracia Mendes in Antwerp

Antwerp reached the height of its prosperity in the early part of the sixteenth century. As a commercial city it became the center of the East Indian trade of the Portuguese; and many of the rich merchants and bankers of Lisbon had branch houses here. In 1536, according to a document in the Belgian state archives, Charles V. gave permission to Maranos to settle in the Netherlands. This document, as well as many others relating to the Jews of the period, is not to be found in the "Plakaatboek" of Brabant; but it has been shown that this collection, made in 1648, was at a later time expurgated.

The magistrates of Antwerp must have been overjoyed at this promise; for not only was the welfare of the city a matter of their concern, but they seem always to have been actuated by a spirit of tolerance not common at this period. When the letters patent of this decree reached them in 1537, they, in affixing their official seal to the document, added the words "Le tout sans fraude ou mal engin."

The Maranos were only too willing to make use of this permission, and proceeded to acquire houses and set up their businesses in their new home. One of these was the rich Marano Francisco Mendes, a member of the well-known Nasi family. At the head of the branch of hisbank, which he had established at Antwerp, was a younger brother, Diego Mendes. When the Inquisition was introduced into Portugal the chief business of the firm was relegated to Antwerp, and many of the Maranos of Portugal, fearing the Holy Office, came and settled in this city.

It was at Antwerp that Gracia Mendesia, wife of Francisco Mendes, lived for many years, having fled there some time before the year 1535. Her nephew, João Miguez (afterward Don Joseph Nasi), is said to have occupied a prominent place among the citizens of Antwerp and to have been well received by Maria, sister of Charles V., who was at that time regent of the Low Countries. When Joseph moved to Italy, he tried to interest the Protestants in Antwerp, as well as Sultan Selim II., in his scheme for acquiring an island in the Grecian Archipelago, in which to settle the unfortunate Jews that were driven out of Spain.

But the people of Antwerp did not seem to have thought much of the project, and lent him no helping hand. It was at Antwerp that large sums of money were collected and sent to Portugal and to Italy in the hope of influencing the Inquisition to relax its vigilance in the case of the secret Jews. Gracia Mendesia, after a few years, found the burden too great of trying to live up to a religion with which she did not sympathize; and with much trouble she escaped to Italy, where she could openly profess Judaism, and there continued her noble work in behalf of her oppressed brethren (Grätz, "Gesch. der Juden," ix. 366).

There are accounts of other notable exiles from the Spanish peninsula living in this, perhaps the oldest, Flemish settlement of the Maranos. Most prominent among them were the renowned physician Amatus Lusitanus (1511), and, in the next century, the traveler Pedro Teixeira, who, after having completed his journey, settled here, returned to the Jewish faith, and wrote an account of his travels (Kayserling, "Gesch. der Juden in Portugal," p. 301; idem, introduction to J. J. Benjamin, "Eight Years in Asia and Africa," pp. 1 et seq., Hanover, 1859). Source

Holocaust

Belgian Jews Today

The Belgian Jewish community currently numbers around 42,000 (out of a total population of 10.5 million), most of whom live either in Brussels or Antwerp, the two largest cities.

Whereas Jews in the mainly French-speaking capital Brussels are mostly secular, the Dutch-speaking port city of Antwerp has Europe’s largest Hasidic community, including followers of the traditions of Belz, Ger, Czortkow, Lubavitch, Satmar and Vishnitz. 

Belgium has 45 active synagogues, 30 of which, all Orthodox, are in Antwerp.

Brussels has more than 10 synagogues, including two Reform congregations – one of them English speaking – and three Sephardic synagogues. Source

History & Culture

Rabbis

  • Rabbi Meir Brandsdorfer (7 September 1934 – 13 May 2009) was a member of the Rabbinical Court of the Edah HaChareidis, the Haredi Ashkenazi community in Jerusalem. His responsa have been published under the title Knei Bosem.
  • Rabbi Chaim Kreiswirth (1918-2001) זצוק"ל was a rabbi and great Torah scholar, known as the Krakower Illuy, who served as the longtime Chief Rabbi of Congregation Machzikei Hadass Antwerp, Belgium.
  • Ahron Daum (born January 6, 1951) is an Israeli-born Modern-Orthodox rabbi, educator, author, and former chief rabbi of Frankfurt am Main, currently residing in Antwerp, Belgium.
  • Rabbi Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss Rabbi Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss is the Chief Rabbi or Gaavad (Gaon Av Beis Din) of Jerusalem for the Edah HaChareidis. He served as a dayan of the Machzike Hadass community of Antwerp, Belgium.
  • Mordechai Rottenberg, Rabbi Mordechai Rottenberg grand-rabbin d'Anvers, réfugié en France à Vittel. Il est déporté de cette ville à Auschwitz où il meurt.
  • Joseph Wiener grand rabbin de Belgique, déporté de France, et mort à Auschwitz.
  • Salomon Ullmann
  • Rabbi Moshe Yitzchok Gewirtzman (1882 - 1976), fondateur de la Dynastie hassidique de Pshevorsk (Pologne), connu comme Reb Itzikel est un Grand-rabbin hassidique, d'origine polonaise, qui après la Seconde Guerre mondiale habite à Paris, en France, de 1949 à 1957, avant de s'établir à Anvers, en Belgique.
  • The Pshevorsker Rebbe, Rabbi Leibish Leiser, lives in Antwerp, as did his predecessors, scroll down for more information.

Notables

  • Zora Arkus-Duntov (December 25, 1909 – April 21, 1996) was a Belgian-born American engineer. His work on the Chevrolet Corvette earned him the nickname "Father of the Corvette."
  • Elias Menachem Stein (born January 13, 1931) is a mathematician and a leading figure in the field of harmonic analysis. He is a professor emeritus of Mathematics at Princeton University.
  • Maurice Tempelsman (born August 26, 1929) is a Belgian-American businessman and diamond merchant. He was the longtime companion of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, former First Lady of the United States.
  • Diane von Fürstenberg, formerly Princess Diane of Fürstenberg (German: Diane Prinzessin zu Fürstenberg born 31 December 1946) is a Belgian born American fashion designer.
  • Simon Kornblit (August 1, 1933 – July 2, 2010) was a Belgian-born American studio executive and actor.
  • David Paymer (born August 30, 1954) is an American actor and television director, seen in such films as The American President, Ocean's Thirteen.
  • Henry Spira (19 June 1927 – 12 September 1998) was a Belgian-American animal rights advocate, widely regarded as one of the most effective animal advocates of the 20th century.
  • Hugo Chaim Adler (17 January 1894, Antwerp – 24 December 1955, Worcester, Massachusetts) was a Belgian composer, cantor, and choir conductor.
  • Samuel Hans Adler (born March 4, 1928) is an American composer and conductor. Adler was born to a Jewish family in Mannheim, Germany, the son of Hugo Chaim Adler, a cantor and composer, and Selma Adler.
  • Victoria Redel (born 1959) is an American poet and fiction writer born into a Jewish family of Belgian-Polish, Romanian and Egyptian descent. Her mother, Natalie Soltanitzky, a noted ballet teacher. Her father, Irving Redel, left Belgium in 1940. He and his parents were among the 86 passengers on the ship the Quanza who were initially refused entry into the United States and Mexico and were about to be returned to Lisbon.
  • Marc Rich (born Marcell David Reich; December 18, 1934 – June 26, 2013) was an international commodities trader, hedge fund manager, financier and businessman

Non-Hasidic Jews

Although the Jews not aligned to any Hasidic group probably no longer greatly outnumber the Hasidim, they have a substantial presence. The three major synagogues in Antwerp, known locally by their addresses, The Van Den Nestlei and the Bouwmeesterstraat shuls of the Shomre Hadass and the Oostenstraat shul, are not aligned to any Hasidic movement.

There is a small Lithuanian Jewish community. Furthermore, there are organisations of Georgian Jews, a Sephardic synagogue, and non-religious Jewish organizations.

Hasidic Jews

Hasidic movements represented in Antwerp include:

  • Alexander (located in the Isabellalei)
  • Belz (The major synagogue on Van Spangenstr. & the new shtiebel at Lange Leemstr.)
  • Bobov
  • Belz-Machnovka (located in the Van Leriusstraat)
  • Chortkov (located in the Van Leriusstraat)
  • Ger
  • Lubavitch is located on the Brialmontlei.
  • Pshevorsk (located in the Mercatorstraat)
  • Satmar
  • Shotz
  • Skver
  • Sanz-Klausenberg (located in the Isabellalei)
  • Vizhnitz (Vizhnitz Bnei Brak, Vizhnitz New York)

The Pshevorsk Hasidim of Antwerp

Rare video footage: Reb Itzik'l of Pshevorsk Hachnosas Sefer Torah

The Pshevorsk movement is the only internationally recognized hassidic movement based in Antwerp. The Pshevorsker Rebbe, Rabbi Leibish Leiser, lives in Antwerp, as did his predecessors. Pshevorsker Hasidim live mainly in Antwerp, London, and Manchester; on Jewish holidays many come to Antwerp to see their rebbe.

There are also other Hasidic rebbes in Antwerp, including a Spinka Rebbe and a Zhemigrader Rebbe. These groups have rebbes in other locations as well.

Lineage

  • • Rebbe Moshe Yitzchak (Reb Itzikl) Gevirzman of Pshevorsk (1881–1976)
  • • Rebbe Yaakov (Reb Yankele) Leiser of Pshevorsk (1907–1998), son-in-law of Reb Itzikl
  • • Rebbe Leibish Leiser of Pshevorsk, present Pshevorsker Rebbe, son of Reb Yankele

Pshevorsk is a small Hasidic movement based in Antwerp, Belgium, led by the Leiser rabbinical dynasty, originating in the Polish town of Przeworsk.

The first Rebbe, Moshe Yitzchak, was a son of Rabbi Naftoli Elimelech, son of Rabbi Avrohom of Gorlice, who was a son of the Rebbe Reb Mylekh of Lizhensk. After his marriage he settled in Przeworsk, Poland. He survived the Holocaust and moved to Paris. In 1956 he settled in Antwerp, where he lived until he died on Yom Kippur in 1976 (year 5737 in the Hebrew calendar).

His son-in-law Rebbe Yaakov Leiser succeeded him. Rebbe Yaakov served as Pshevorsker Rebbe until 1998, when he died and was succeeded by his son Leibish Leiser, the current Rebber of Pshevorsk.

Reb Yankele and Reb Yitzchak are buried in Putte, Netherlands because a Belgian law makes it possible to reuse or build on top of gravesites. As such, the Jews of Antwerp have traditionally been buried in Putte, where the sanctity of gravesites is assured.

Ideologically, Pshevorsk is a combination of four different offshoots of Tsanz. R' Itzik'l was a close student of the Satmer Rebbe (R' Yoel Zt"l). The current Rebbe continues the close ties with Satmar.

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Media

  • Left Luggage is a 1998 Dutch film directed by Jeroen Krabbé set in Antwerp.