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The creation of a Jewish community in Anderlecht in the last decade of the 19th century arose from the massive influx of Jews who left their places of residence in the Russian Empire and other Central and Eastern European countries, fleeing the wave of pogroms that engulfed the Jewish communities in those regions and the appalling living conditions that were their lot.

While it may seem somewhat dicey to be able to find documents in the archives that are related to these events in connection with a facility in our country’s capital, we can read the following in one of the first Jewish papers (dated 1905):  “The Orthodox Jewish society headed by Mr. Milstein rented a prayer room in Van Artevelde Street starting from Simchat Torah 1904.  Two hundred families attended services there.”  Less than two years later the congregation moved to 18 Rue de Lenglentier/Lenglentierstraat, where its spiritual leader Salomon Bamberger officiated from 1907 until his death in 1913.  Bamberger and the association’s president, Meir Polazinzki, are the ones who applied to the Consistory and Ministry of Justice for official recognition (Royal Decree of June 20, 1910) and the title of “Orthodox Jewish Community of Brussels” (CIOB in French) (Royal Decree of August 11, 1912).

Given the steady influx of immigrants, the community then considered building a large synagogue.  However, not until 1922, after World War I and its upheavals, were actual steps taken to this end under the presidency of J. Zimmerman.  After examining various proposals, the community chose, in 1926, a plot of some 500 square meters (more than 4500 square feet) in the heart of the Jewish quarter that was being sold by the company Daman & Washer.  Thanks to the Consistory and its president Franz Philippson’s support, the cornerstone was laid on September 26, 1928.  The CIOB’s construction project was entrusted to Joseph De Lange, a Jewish architect from Antwerp who had already built various synagogues in the country.  And so, the building rose up in an increasingly unsettled climate under excessively precarious economic and political conditions.  Its inauguration took place on April 6, 1933.  That same evening, the first demonstration opposing the events taking places in Germany was held in La Madeleine Hall, in Brussels, at the instigation of Max Gottschalk.

Rabbi Sgalowitsch, who left the city of Danzig as it underwent Nazification, was appointed to serve as the CIOB’s spiritual leader.  His first concerns were totally unexpected, for his problems were mainly financial ones that jeopardized the community’s very existence.  Then came World War II, which hit the Orthodox community’s members in a particular way, given that at the time they were generally less well integrated in Belgian society than many of the Jews belonging to other communities.  The resulting difficulties that they had finding the necessary contacts in their time of need would be fatal for many of them.

After the Holocaust Rabbi Steinberg worked on finishing the building’s interior facilities and focused on the community’s spiritual reconstruction.  A new CIOB initiative was born in this connection, namely, the creation of a Jewish day school.  The Maimonides Atheneum came to be thanks to the devotion and dynamism of a few members of the community, including Rabbi Steinberg himself and S.B. Bamberger.  Little by little this first of three Jewish day schools in Brussels became a monument in the lives of the capital’s Jewish residents.

Besides holding daily services, the CIOB runs the Kashrut Supervision Commission for the city of Brussels and regularly publishes a list of kosher products.  It has also taken on responsibility for the ritual bath, the mikveh, which it puts at the disposal of the faithful who make such a request.  Finally, the CIOB gives those who are interested access to the rabbinical court, the beit din.