The following article concerns the ongoing Islamization of the Anderlecht district of Brussels, and the effect that cultural enrichment has had on a traditional Jewish school in the neighborhood.
Brussels is Becoming a Danger Zone
by Bodo Bost
The Jewish school “Maimonides”, rich in tradition and in the centre of Brussels, has to endure, sixty-five years after its startup, an increasingly aggressive anti-Semitism with an Islamic flavor. A ban on wearing kippahs is supposed to protect the children from Islamic aggression.
Shortly after the Second World War, at the initiative of the director of the Jewish orphanage and Holocaust survivor Seligman Bamberger and with the support of the Brussels rabbi Steinberg, the first Jewish school was opened in Brussels.
This project was begun as a symbol of returning Jewish life after the Second World War with its occupation by the Germans. They first started in 1947 with a kindergarten and an elementary school, and beginning in 1959, the school expanded with a wing for higher education.
In addition to the worldly subjects usually taught in schools, the emphasis was also put on Jewish spiritual values and classical education. Because of that, the school was named after the great Talmud scholar Maimonides. The name “atheneum” was added at a later date, and in the year 1965 the first students took their exams and started their studies. The Jewish “Atheneum Maimonides” has moved many times around the city centre until it found its permanent place in 1993 on the Boulevard Poincaré. During its anniversary in 1997 the school changed its name to that of its founder, Seligman Bamberger.
Sixty-five years later the school struggles to survive. Because the neighborhood in Brussels in which the school happens to exist, the city neighborhood of Anderlecht which is in view of the Gare de Midi, has developed during the last few years into a predominantly Muslim neighborhood. The Jews here are more and more exposed to strong hostility. The result: a dwindling Jewish population and a situation for the school that does not seem solvable. “The area has an immigrant population that the Jews are not positively disposed towards,” says Agnes Bensimon, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Embassy in Brussels, who herself is a former pupil of the “Maimonides”. For years there has been a steady deterioration in the quality of life in Anderlecht, which would affect safety and cleanliness, says School Board Chairman Jacques Wajc.
“The story of “Maimonides” school center is the story of the Jewish community of Brussels and its growing unease,” says Joel Rubinfeld, past “Maimonides” scholar and president of the European Jewish Parliament across the street from the newspaper Times of Israel. Instead of Jews, the neighborhood is filling up with Islamist immigrants from Morocco and Turkey. And every time the tensions in the Middle East increase, so does the anti-Semitism. The 8000-square-meter complex reacts by increasing its security. Nowadays the school looks more like a very well-guarded military complex. There are no windows, the outside walls are protected with weapons-grade iron plates. Parents send their kids to other schools. The number of students has dwindled from 600 to 150. Debts are hitting six million euros. There used to be about 100 Jewish families around South Station; now there are only three. This year the school may close. In order to prevent that, it is contemplating moving to the suburbs. But there we already find other Jewish schools such as the Jewish Gannou school in Ukkel and the Beth-Aviv school in Vorst. “Maimonides” is the last school in the centre of Brussels, where lots of Jews once lived. The neighborhood of Gare du Midi used to be called “Little Jerusalem” because of the large Jewish population.
Especially since the attack by Mohamed Merah at the Jewish school in Toulouse last year, which resulted in four deaths, the fear of radical Islam with a North African flavor has increased a lot in Brussels. The director of the school has banned the wearing of kippahs by students outside the school in an attempt to protect them. The kippah is a sign of respect towards God. So a fundamental aspect of the Jewish belief system had to go. Also the ban on using the metro station Lemonnier, which seems to be a gathering place for aggressive Muslims, resulted in an outcry in the Jewish community.
Similar circumstances are also found in big cities in France and Holland. Jews wearing the kippah do not dare to go into certain neighborhoods, according to Rubinfeld: “European cities are dangerous for people wearing a kippah.”
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