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There was no organized Jewish community in Liège before the early 19th century.  France’s annexation of the episcopal principality then ensured the Jews’ presence and civil and political equality.  The number of Jewish families living in Liège is thus put at eight in 1808 and 220 in 1890.  Most of them originally came from Dutch Limburg (50%), Prussia, and Alsace-Lorraine.  During this period the Jewish community answered to the Jewish community of Maastricht, which itself belonged to the Consistory of Krefeld.

Various buildings served as places of worship.  The Province of Liège’s Almanach mentions Jewish prayer halls in the following streets:  Rue Souverain-Pont, Rue de la Régence, and Rue Pierreuse.  The City of Liège helped defray these venues’ rental costs starting in 1867.  Formal recognition of the Jewish Community of Liège came about in 1876 with the Royal Decree of February 7.  In 1878 the community set up its headquarters in the Outre-Meuse neighborhood, where the abandoned chapel of the former Saint Julian’s Hospice, which had been turned into a grain market at the time of the French Revolution, became a synagogue.  The café built on the site still bears the name “Café du Temple. The current synagogue, which was designed in Neo-Tuscan style by the architect Joseph Rémont, was inaugurated on August 18, 1899.  It is in Rue Léon Frédéricq, a stone’s throw away from the city’s current Convention Center, and has been listed as a noteworthy monument by the Walloon Region.  The rare documents of the time that have survived, including a guest book, show that the community consisted primarily of prominent citizens.

The number families making up the community doubled in the early 20th century, especially after World War I, due to the incessant influx of immigrants fleeing the poverty and pogroms of Eastern Europe.  The urgent need to hire workers for the industrial center that had grown up around Liège made the city a natural port of entry.  Consequently, many immigrants put down roots in the industrial suburb of Seraing, where they formed a small community of their own with a prayer room in Rue du Marais.  This community was on the verge of being recognized on the eve of World War II, but was then decimated by the war.  As a university town, Liège also harbored several highly reputed colleges and institutes, including its Polytech.  As life in Liège was slightly less expensive than in France, Liège became a magnet for many Jewish students, with the additional advantages that they escaped limits on the number of students admitted elsewhere and the anti-Semitism that was rampant in many Central and Eastern European universities.  As a result, their number rose from 23 in 1899 to 173 in 1908.  Some 500 Jewish students were enrolled in the Schools of Applied Science and Medicine in 1925-27.  Curiously enough, the number of foreign students enrolled in these colleges in those years exceeded the number of Belgian students.  What is more, some of the foreign students, who were not eligible for the full degree (grade légal) because of their nationality, went to work in the Belgian Congo.  Others remained in Liège, where they swelled the ranks of the Jewish community of craftsmen, blue-collar workers, shopkeepers, and traveling salesmen, most of whom also had foreign passports.  The Jewish population of Liège was thus put at about 3,000 in 1939.

The Holocaust took away more than half of the community and the synagogue was profaned.  A double painting of the victims’ names in Latin and Hebrew letters that hangs at the back of the synagogue recalls the memory of some of them, along with the resistance fighters and Jewish soldiers who fought against Nazi Germany.  Moreover, many ornaments, stained-glass windows, and ritual objects are dedicated to them.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, the survivors, whose ranks were swollen by new immigrants who were often “displaced persons,” tried to get a new lease on life.  A large Passover seder (the ritual Jewish Easter meal) was even held for the American troops quartered around Liège in 1945.

The Jewish community of Liège participated and continues to participate in many patriotic events and inaugurations, including the inauguration of the American cemetery and the national memorial to the Resistance.  The synagogue and the Jewish Center next door to it continue their activities and house a range of very active institutions, such as WIZO, S.O.S.-Bienfaisance, the S. Kruglanski Museum, KKL, and the Hachomer Hatsair youth movement.  Today services continue to be held for shabbat and weekly Jewish studies classes are dispensed.

The building has a mikveh (ritual bath), sukkah (hut for the festival of Sukkot), and library.  In parallel, the community manages a cemetery at Eysden, in the Netherlands, and two plots next to the municipal cemetery of Robermont.

The synagogue also hosts lectures, visits and debates with other communities of other philosophies, educational visits for school children, and even a concert in partnership with the Jewish Museum of Vienna.  A children’s choir sings during the Hanukah celebrations each year.