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At the moment of our country’s independence there was already a well-ensconced Jewish community in Antwerp and the need for a synagogue was already felt most urgently.  A first synagogue was thus inaugurated at No. 83 Paardenmarkt on September 21, 1832.  This was followed by a second one in Pieter Potstraat in 1844, as the first one was already overcrowded.  It is moreover interesting to note that a small room attached to this synagogue served as a school.  The years that followed Belgium’s independence were likewise marked by the growth of Antwerp’s Jewish community.  What is more, many Jewish communities in Central and Eastern Europe were the victims of persecution as of the late 19th century.  Such persecution, and especially the pogroms, prompted many Jews to search for more hospitable skies.  Antwerp, as a major port town, was a frequent stage on the journey to such final destinations as the United States.  Many Jews, however, halted their travels in Antwerp for a variety of reasons and ended up establishing themselves there.  The Jewish Community of Antwerp thus very naturally expanded and created the community infrastructure that its development required.

The Shomre Hadas Jewish Community of Antwerp was recognized in 1876 (Royal Decree of February 7).  Very quickly the Pieter Pot Street synagogue likewise proved unsuitable, in terms of its size and location, for the growing congregation, and the possibilities of buying a plot of land in order to build a more suitable house of worship were examined.  The splendid “Dutch” synagogue in Bowmeesterstraat was inaugurated on September 7, 1893.  The Jewish architect Joseph Hertogs took inspiration for its Oriental style from the preliminary plans done by the architect Ernest Stordiau.  The result is an architectural gem in this domain.  The community acquired another plot of land on the corner of Van den Nestlei and Oostenstraat for the purpose of building a second synagogue in 1912.  This synagogue, which was designed by the Jewish architect Joseph De Lange, was inaugurated in 1929.

Driven by great dynamism, the Shomre Hadas Community had a very intense community life.  It appointed Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel, whose erudition was famous, in 1920.  One of the rabbi’s first achievements upon arriving in Antwerp was to create a Jewish day school, the Tachkemoni School, for the children of his community.  Through the secular and religious education that it dispensed, this school became one of the jewels of Antwerp’s Jewish community and one of the schools that were held up as examples in the world for the quality of the education that they offer.  Finally, in 1928 Shomre Hadas acquired two acres of land in the small Dutch border town of Putte for use as a cemetery.

From 1940 to 1945 the horrors of the Holocaust struck the Jewish community of Antwerp, as it did all those in continental Europe.  In 1941 already - on April 14, which was Easter Monday, to be precise - Antwerp’s Jewish quarter located near the central train station was attacked by a gang of about 200 Nazi sympathizers after the showing of an anti-Semitic film.  The majority of the assailants belong to the Flemish SS, Black Brigade, and VNV.  As they headed for the synagogues in Oostenstraat they shattered the windows of dozens of shops belonging to Jews.  They then ransacked the Van den Nestlei and Oostenstraat synagogues, destroying the furniture, profaning religious objects, and setting fire to the synagogues and to the rabbi’s house.  This event is known as “Antwerp’s mini-pogrom.”  The high price paid by the Jewish community of Antwerp during the tragic period of August and September 1942 is also well known.  Thousands of its members rounded up during these two months lost their lives after being deported to the death camps.

After the war, the survivors of the “Final Solution” implemented by the Nazis against the Jewish community set to work to rebuild the devastated Jewish institutions.  So, in the aftermath of the Holocaust Antwerp’s Jewish community came back to life little by little.  The renovated Van den Nestlei synagogue was re-opened in 1954 under the name of Romi Goldmuntz, in a tribute to one of its most generous donors.  The Tachkemoni School became the Tachkemoni Athenaeum and today has an enrollment of more than 800, all sections combined.

Of course, the community’s infrastructure has always been and remains one of the most complete, with synagogues, prayer rooms, rabbinate, officiating ministers, beit din (rabbinical court), circumcision, kashrut, ritual slaughter, weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, social welfare services, a mikveh (ritual bath), burial society, and cemetery.  Starting in the 1950s the Jewish community of Antwerp regained some of its past glory thanks to the daily efforts of its members, who gave proof more than ever of the devotedness that has always characterized this great community.