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The Gallo-Roman town of Arlon has a very old Jewish community, for traces of Jews were found in Arlon as early as the 12th century.  However, this small community has other claims to glory.  It effectively has the first synagogue built in the Kingdom of Belgium (pursuant to a Royal Decree of December 16, 1863) and as such incarnates a major stage in the history of the Jewish community’s relations with our country’s authorities.  The synagogue, designed by architect Albert Jamot, was inaugurated on September 22, 1865, even though only 149 people of Jewish faith were registered with the town’s authorities in 1865.  This figure nevertheless was close to 2% of the town’s population.  Most of Arlon’s Jewish population came from northeastern France (Alsace-Lorraine) and were mainly horse traders and cattle merchants.

The history of Arlon’s Jewish community includes a few very colorful figures, such as the journalist Camille Cerf, who became a businessman and director of the Pathé Nathan and Lumière companies and a great benefactor of the city of Arlon, and Abraham Oungre, officiating minister from 1868 to 1910 and whose son, Louis, became General Manager of one of the largest charitable organizations in the world, the Jewish Colonization Association.

The Jewish Community of Arlon was organized in actual fact in 1834, but was not granted official recognition (by Royal Decree) until February 7, 1876.  The community consisted of some twenty members at the start, but reached 216 by 1888.  This figure then remained practically unchanged until 1940.  After World War II the community was resurrected with a membership of about 100.  Unfortunately, it declined steadily thereafter and now stands at some forty people, including its members from across the borders in Longwy (France) and the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg.  The synagogue, located in Rue de la Synagogue (Synagogue Street), is one of the first major Neo-Romanesque edifices in Arlon and has just been renovated.  Despite its congregation’s small size, it continues to hold Saturday services for shabbat, as well as services on the Jewish holy days.

It is interesting to mention Arlon’s Jewish cemetery.  It is the only one in the south of the country and the oldest one in Belgium.  It is also the only one, along with the Dieweg Jewish cemetery in Uccle, to have tombs predating 1900, and many of its monuments are especially interesting from an iconographic standpoint.  In addition, Arlon has a second Jewish cemetery where one finds a memorial for the Jewish victims of Nazism.