A delegation of European Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, here for talks with government officials, paid tribute to the victims of last month’s shooting at the Jewish Museum in Belgium during a ceremony on Mount Herzl on Tuesday. Four people, including two Israeli tourists, were killed in the attack.
The shooting, which was carried out by a French Muslim who had returned from fighting in the Syrian civil war, was a “shock for the whole country,” Belgian Ambassador to Tel Aviv John Cornet d’Elzius told the delegates, who represented over 20 communities from across the continent.
The leaders are in Israel for talks with their counterparts from the Jewish Federations of North America and representatives of Jewish Agency and the Israeli government. The delegation was organized by the Israeli-Jewish Congress.
One of the topics slated to be discussed is Jerusalem’s World Jewry Joint Initiative, a far reaching program backed by Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, designed to finance Jewish identity programs around the world to the tune of billions of dollars over the next two decades.
Several European Jewish leaders had said that they felt left out of the project, which they saw as largely, though not exclusively, centered on North America, and it is possible that the communal representatives may attempt to enhance their constituents’ participation in the program.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post after the ceremony, which took place at a memorial to Jewish victims of terror, Eli Ringer, the immediate past president of the Forum der Joodse Organisaties, an umbrella organization representing a number of Flemish Jewish bodies, said that “a month after [the attack] I am still shaken because in a land like Belgium nobody would even think that such a thing could have happened.”
While Belgian authorities provided security for Jewish institutions prior to the shooting, the attack enabled Belgian leaders to internalize Jewish concerns, Ringer said.
Recalling a meeting with senior government officials six weeks ago, Ringer said that when he attempted to explain the impact on his grandchildren of begging required to pass through security to enter their school, the officials were unable to get to grips with the situation.
“They were looking at me and I think they really didn’t understand what I meant,” he said. “After this tragic event I think they understand a little more” where their Jewish citizens are coming from, he said.
Ringer disagreed with recent comments by European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor, who said that if European Jews continue to live in fear then “normative Jewish life in Europe [will be] unsustainable.”
A third of Jews polled last year by the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights admitted to refraining from wearing religious garb or Jewish symbols out of fear, with 23 percent saying that they avoided attending Jewish events or going to Jewish venues.
While European Jews are “more doubtful” about their future than they were 20 years ago, Ringer asserted, “we are watchful [but] we don’t live in fear.”
The ceremony was a catharsis, said Baron Julien Klener, president of the Consistoire Central Israèlite de Belgique. “This means on a symbolic level, on a personal level, the world to me,” he said. “It is very special to [hold the ceremony] here… In the presence of these representatives of European Jewry.”
Belgian authorities are “very committed to fighting against anti-Semitism,” Ambassador d’Elzius told the Post after the ceremony. “They were before, they still are, and even more than ever. This is a priority for the government and [its] determination is full on that matter.”