The Jewish community of Brussels had prepared two major Purim events for this week, intended as the focal point of celebrations in the city — but now, the Jewish Press reports, both events have been canceled. The authorities have requested everyone in the city to stay home over the next few days, following the horrendous terror attacks Tuesday. Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the Israel-born head of the European Jewish Association lobby group, whose office is right next door to the Molenbeek metro station, where one of the bombings took place, reported a very difficult day for the local Jewish community.
“The Jewish community here in Brussels and in Europe in general is not surprised,” he told Ma’ariv. “We’ve been receiving alerts for a long time now. Despite the shock the city experienced, we were not surprised. Of course, we feel the concern and the pressure, but we were really not surprised by everything that’s going on in the city. It was only a matter of time before such an attack happened.”
“We evacuated family by family from the Jewish school,” Rabbi Margolin described the day. “We feared additional attacks and contacted the families. To avoid panic, we asked that they take the children one at a time. Since then, all the families are at home. We obey the instructions from the security services.”
Rabbi Margolin has no doubt there are additional terror cells still lurking around Brussels. “The fact that the terrorist from Brussels was able to hide in the city for several months means there was someone helping him, which is why I believe these were not the last attacks we’ll be seeing here. The routine right now is difficult. There’s a feeling of insecurity. The holiday events are being canceled and we’re listening to the security forces.”
Following last November’s deadly Paris attacks, Rabbi Margolin called on European governments to relax gun-licensing legislation and to allow Jews in particular to carry firearms for self-defense. But on Tuesday he said he did not believe the motive for the new attacks had been anti-Semitic. “The attacks were not directed at Jews but against all the citizens of Europe who are getting used to a new reality,” he said, adding, “G-d is guarding us and we’re doing everything in our power to make sure that all the Jews in our community are safe.”
Jewish schools and institutions in both Brussels and Antwerp have been shut down. At least two local Jews were hurt in the attack, one an Israeli Haredi man who lives in Antwerp and was in Brussels for a wedding, and another Jewish person was moderately wounded, according to Samuel Markowitz, a paramedic from Hatzolah who spoke to Joods Actueel.
A smaller, low key Purim event was also scheduled, and Rabbi Margolin is working to allow the celebration to go on. A decision will be taken in the coming hours. Authorities have requested that Jews don’t masquerade openly, in order not to become an object of a terror attack. No specific instruction has been issued, and Rabbi Margolin reiterates that the attack was not directed against Jews.