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Great Synagogue of Brussels
photo by Rhonda Spivak

photo by Rhonda Spivak

The Great Synagogue of Brussels from the outside
photo by Rhonda Spivak

A building glittering with gold in The Grand Place of Brussels, which is not far form the Great Syana five miute walk from the Great synagogue of Brussels. The Grand Place was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1998.
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Editorial: The Bonuses to our community if the Rady Centre Day Care is Held in the Herzlia Synagogue

by Rhonda Spivak, February 11, 2013

I have just returned from the Great Synagogue of Brussels - the most regal, gorgeous synagogue I have ever seen. Its fine intricate wood details and Gothic style make it an architectural gem. Located on the Rue de la Regence near the old city of Brussles where the Grand Place is, it is a vestige of the world lost in the Shoah. In one 24 hour period during World War 2, the Nazis slaughtered over 85% of the Jewish community of Brussels. Today, there is no Jewish community living near this orthodox synagogue of Brussels, but about 30 people attend Shabbat services and it’s filled on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Sitting in Brussels’ Great Synagogue was a reminder of how the Jews of Europe made their synagogues the most magnificent community buildings before the Shoah. And because the Great Synagogue of Brussels is an orthodox synagogue, despite the passing of decades since the slaughter of Europe’s Jews, I was able to learn about Jewish life in Brussels before the Shoah. Orthodox Jews would walk to synagogue so by definition they would have lived nearby the synagogue, and I found myself wandering the neighborhood in which Jews lived prior to the Holocaust. A Jewish custodian turned on the lights of the Synagogue when I arrived, and I sat alone in the Synagogue and prayed and contemplated the fate of the synagogues of my own community in Winnipeg. As I looked up in awe at the exquisite bimah, I began thinking about the Herzlia synagogue and whether the Rady Jewish Community Centre would find a way to locate its daycare in that synagogue’s building, thereby ensuring that children would fill the building during the day. This would enable the synagogue to retain its property and maintain Jewish communal property. I began thinking of the mitzvah the Rady JCC would be doing by renting Herzlia’s surplus space. I believe that mitzvot count, and that inevitably performing a mitzvah will bring its own rewards--ones which are measured not in dollars but in fundamental values, spiritual awareness and in maintaining and ensuring the survival of a community.


I believe community organizations ought to work together to ensure each other's survival for the betterment of all. I believe the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg should take as active a role as is required to ensure that the Rady JCC and Herzlia-Adas Yeshurun conclude a deal quickly. Discussions have been ongoing for too long and it is time to know the results.

In the Great synagogue of Brussels, I recalled when my children attended Brock Corydon School and I organized a Purim visit to Herzlia synagogue to hear the megillah reading. Without that visit, many of the children attending Brock Corydon would not have heard a megillah reading or seen an actual megillah. I remember the day vividly. The children, many in costume, were greeted by the Rabbi and synagogue members. They heard the megillah and got to see it up close. They discussed the story of Purim over grape juice and cookies provided by the synagogue. I'll never forget what several of the children told me when they thanked me for arranging the visit. "This is my first time in a synagogue," several of them told me. I paused when they said that. Up until then, they hadn't known what a synagogue even looked like, let alone what a megillah looked like, or an ark, or a torah, a torah cover, or a siddur or any other synagogue ritual object.


It is obvious to me that someone who has not been exposed to a synagogue throughout their childhood and adolescence is not likely going to feel at home there. They are unlikely to find it a place of contemplation and thought, or a place where they wish to pray, even occasionally. In short, if they haven't grown up with a synagogue in their lives, it's not likely that they will find a way of weaving a synagogue into their lives in the future.


And just as children will bring life to a synagogue, a synagogue will bring Jewish life to children. If a Rady Jewish Community Day Care were housed in the Herzlia-Adas Yeshurun building, it would be so simple for the children to visit the sanctuary for all of the Jewish holidays where the day care was open, such as Sukkot, Purim, Chol Hamoed Pesach, Shavuot, etc and to make decorations that would full the synagogue and add to its holiday atmosphere. The children would be able to enter the synagogue’s sukkah for Sukkot and watch people make the blessings over the lulav and etrog and wine because they want to and know the words by heart, because it is meaningful to them and adds to the value of their lives. In a synagogue, a Rabbi can easily explain the importance of the sukkah, its history, its origins, and why we still make them even if it is about to snow outside in the cold of Winnipeg.


Children would be able to see and learn about synagogue rituals and practices. On Friday afternoons, the children may be able to have special visits from the Rabbi or Rebbetzin who would tell Shabbat stories and teach the children an age old melody from a Jewish song or prayer that has lasted throughout centuries. Those experiences are precious and we would do a service to our future generations if we exposed them to it.


And ultimately, those children who are exposed to the richness of Jewish life at an early age are more likely to keep the Rady Jewish Community Centre alive and vibrant later when adults. They are more likely to value things that are Jewish and weave them into their lives. And in that way, the mitzvah that the Rady JCC would make by choosing a synagogue as a place to house their daycare will pay dividends years later.


As I sat contemplating the future of Herzlia synagogue in the Great Synagogue of Brussels, I began to think about the measures that the Jews of Brussels, who perished in one day at the hands of the Nazis, would have taken had they been able to honour their synagogue as a place to teach their children about the value and richness of Jewish life. And I knew that I had to write this editorial-- an editorial that was composed in my head in the Great Synagogue of Brussels.


Feb 10, 2013-Letter to the Editor from Abe and Barbara Anhang:

What a moving editorial! Thank you, Rhonda. No one could have said it better!

Juxtaposing the once vibrant orthodox Synagogue in Brussels, Belgium,
(now a museum) with what is about to happen with Herzlia is a stark reminder
of what could very easily happen in Winnipeg! We could very easily do to ourselves
by neglect, what Hitler failed to do - destroy all vestiges of Jewish civilization.

Truth be told, the current revival of the Winnipeg Jewish community is owed to a
small group of committed community leaders who chose to change the history of our
community about 20 years ago. Without them, this community was heading toward extinction!

Right now, we are on the road back to recovery, but that recovery is fragile
indeed. If we are not careful, it too could fail. Success is not assured.
We are still facing several major challenges to our survival. Assimilation is rampant.

Rhonda Spivak has performed for all of us a very important task by reminding us of
the importance of children making contact with their Jewish roots as early as Day Care.

As luck would have it, there is an up-tick in the demand of children demanding Jewish
Day Care. The province has allocated 70 day care slots to fill that demand,plus a capital

The reason given against it is that Federation should not back a synagogue. I believe that is a red herring! What is being proposed by the Rady Centre is really a business deal that is NOT a situation of Federation bailing out a synagogue (in fact, I would oppose that myself).

Indeed, it is a question of whether Federation should do what is necessary
to enable the Rady Centre to fulfill its mandate to provide 70 day care slots before the slots
and the capital funding goes elsewhere.

From what I understand, the objective is to get these slots operational for next fall. As far as I know, there is no other building in the south end that could better fulfill this requirement! The timing is such that the renovations could be done in time to avoid a loss of the slots and capital grant. A classic win win situation.

At this point, I understand from Ben Cohen that Herzlia has a plan B in place; it has raised $1 Million in capital funds in the last 6 weeks so they can now go it alone!

I appeal to the executive and directors to grasp this opportunity, since they
will be performing a major mitzvah for those in desperate need of Jewish Day
Care!  Let us look after those who come after us, just as those who came before us looked
after us!

If it makes good economic sense for Federation, why would we as a Jewish community
discriminate against the only building in the south end that fits all the criteria?
What are we missing?


Abe and Barbara Anhang

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.