As a “high”-level terror alert shut down the European capital of Brussels, its Jewish community shared this unprecedented tense security situation.
Reacting to warnings of an “imminent” attack, the city raised its alert level to four, the highest level, on Shabbos morning. As of Sunday night, the security situation remained unchanged and all of the city’s schools were set to remain closed on Monday. Amid this tense situation, the Jewish Central Consistory of Belgium advised shuls to close. Many minyanim were held at independent locations.
“Today there is no difference between the insecurity felt by Jews and everybody else in Europe,” a spokesman for the European Jewish Congress who asked not to be named told Hamodia. “However, if central Brussels is closed down, you can imagine that the Jewish community is under total lockdown.”
A major event scheduled to take place Sunday at Brussels’ main shul was canceled, as were all larger gatherings in the city. Even individuals were discouraged from venturing out as the city was flooded with police and military personnel.
“It looks like a military occupation. There are soldiers at every corner stopping and checking any car that moves,” said the spokesman. “Yesterday morning the streets were completely empty. Now there are a few more people, but I have never seen a city armed like this.”
In May 2014, an Islamic terrorist who returned from training in Syria killed four people at Brussels’ Jewish Museum of Belgium. Since then, authorities have provided high security to all the city’s Jewish institutions on a near constant basis. Belgium has a very high number of Muslims suspected of having become radicalized. One of the key suspects in the recent Paris terror attacks hailed from the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, a hotbed of jihadism.
Daniel Shwamenthal of the American Jewish Committee’s Brussels office described being “held up in locked-down Brussels.” He told Hamodia that despite increased security since the museum attacks, “Yesterday was a whole new dimension. There are trucks and jeeps, and soldiers observing from rooftops.”
He also said that while there have been no warnings “specific to the Jewish community, … of course the Jewish community is more nervous given the fact that even though everybody is a target, we know that they would prefer killing Jews. It makes out future here all the more uncertain.”
Brussels is home to approximately 20,000 Jews but only a small Orthodox community. Antwerp, which is one of the main centers of frum life in Europe, was on level-three alert, as was the rest of the country.
Rabbi Levi Matusof, who serves as a representative of European Jewish communities in the Brussels-based EU parliament, told Hamodia that “communities all over Europe are on very high alert. Everything needs to be done in consultation with security authorities, but we need to remain strong and focus on how we can go on with our lives as Jews here.”