Latest update: December 30th, 2013
For years there have been reports of Jews being warned not to wear items that identify them as Jewish in places where there are large or numbers are particularly aggressive anti-Semites.
People are told it is best not to wear Magen David necklaces outside their clothing, or kippot on their heads when visiting certain neighborhoods in France, in England, certainly throughout much of the Arab Middle East or in parts of North Africa.
But now a Jewish school in Belgium has issued an edict to its schoolchildren: do not wear kippot near the school until you are safely inside the steel-paneled fortified building.
The Maimonides School in the Anderlecht neighborhood of Brussels was started shortly after World War II, at the initiative of the director of the Jewish orphanage, Holocaust survivor S.B. Bamberger, with assistance from Brussels’ rabbi. It was an attempt to reclaim Jewish life in Brussels after the German occupation. The school opened its doors on September 1, 1947 on the Boulevard Poincaré.
Although it is a pluralistic Jewish school, it follows kashrut and boys are required to wear kippot, and all students are expected to dress “decently,” according to the school’s website.
Over the years the neighborhood in which the school is located has deteriorated. Anderlecht used to be called “little Jerusalem” because there were so many Jews. The neighborhood is now increasingly populated by Muslim immigrants from Morocco and Turkey, and right near the school building is a subway station where many Muslim immigrants gather. Attendance at the school has been dwindling.
Last year the Maimonides board of directors concluded that they will soon have to move, because parents have become too frightened to send their children to the school in its current location. The dramatic drop in attendance – the pre-k through senior high school once had 600 students, but it is now down to less than 150 – has created enormous financial difficulties for Maimo, as it is called.
“In recent years, the district suffered a sharp deterioration. The establishment struggled to deal with the problems of insecurity, of cleanliness. Many parents no longer wish to enroll their children in Maimonides because they fear for their safety,” explained Jacques Wajc, chairman of the school’s board of directors, to the Belgian news source 7 Sur 7.
An incident unnerved the school community in March of 2012. According to the Coordinating Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism,
“Four individuals of Arab-Muslim origin arrived at the door of the Athenaeum Maimonides in Anderlecht and tried to pull the door to enter multiple times. The security services of the school intervened and were joined by police officers on site. When checking on the individuals, one of them said, ‘I do not care to touch the door of s[**]t dirty Jew,'” according to the Coordinating Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism, The four who attempted to gain entrance to the school were illegal immigrants.
Until the school can raise the money to move, it has had to issue a new directive to its students, as reported by Gates of Vienna:
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.
There are two Jewish schools in suburban Brussels.
Approximately 25,000 Belgian Jews were deported to the death camps from Brussels during World War II. Of those, only 1,207 survived the war.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the U.S. correspondent for The Jewish Press. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com
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