Europe synagogues up for sale as Jewish demographics change

Three Jewish houses of worship in Ireland and Belgium were recently placed on the market.

February 9, 2016 21:06
2 minute read.
THE SIMON AND LINA HAIM SYNAGOGUE in the Brussels neighborhood of Schaerbeek

THE SIMON AND LINA HAIM SYNAGOGUE in the Brussels neighborhood of Schaerbeek. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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Three synagogues in Ireland and Belgium have recently been put up for sale due to changing demographics, as two neighborhoods, hundreds of miles away from each other, have seen their Jewish populations slowly leave.

An online listing for a synagogue in Brussels neighborhood of Schaarbeek was found by Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon on Monday. The building, which was built in the seventies and billed as a “mixed-use building” was being offered for just over one million euros. Another synagogue in the city was being sold for a similar price, the paper reported.

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The city’s chief rabbi, Avraham Gigi, was quoted as saying that over the last several decades “the Jews left, and the Arabs came. Regular worshipers had to come from a distance and it was not comfortable, so they bought a large villa in the city center, which will serve synagogue alternative.”

Gigi recently made waves when he publicly stated that “people understand there is no future for Jews in Europe,” prompting heated debate among communal leaders across the continent.

Two years ago in Brussels a gunman opened fire fire at a Jewish museum, killing four. In November, the city’s synagogues were closed as the city underwent a terror alert following the Paris attacks of November 13, which killed 130 people.

Earlier this month Belgian authorities announced that prosecutors investigating Belgian links to the Paris attacks said an apartment in the district of Schaerbeek had been rented under a false name and used to make explosives.

Asked about the synagogue sale, Baron Julien Klener, who until recently headed Belgium’s Consistoire, told The Jerusalem Post that “it's a known phenomenon that Jews settling in one part of a city move to other neighborhoods in [search] of their ‘social progress’ and that such migrations lead to issues with the synagogues left behind. It is “obvious” that there are security issues in some parts of the city, he added, likely referring to Molenbeek, a neighborhood widely considered a hotbed of extremism.

Meanwhile, in the Irish city of Cork, the local synagogue was shut down with a large ceremony this week.

As opposed to Brussels, the city’s only synagogue closed purely due to changing demographics unconnected with any larger issues, as the community, which only numbered five hundred at its zenith, grew too small to support a full time house of worship.

“It was very sad to see something like that happen but there are very few Jewish people left in Cork,” Maurice Cohen of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland told the Irish Times.

JTA and Reuters contributed to this report.

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