Any way you turned at the annual Israeli Day Fair in Brussels, Belguim last week, there was one thing you couldn’t miss: A lively tefillin and Jewish information stand surrounded by a large crowd drawn to the Yeshiva students manning the booth. This wasn’t the only such booth set up around the extensive fair grounds, yet the Yeshiva students had their hands full throughout the day, addressing questions, helping men wrap tefillin, and meeting Jewish faces from across the country.
“Brussels is not an easy climate for traditional Judaism,” says Chabad Rabbi Shmuel Pinson of Brussels, who coordinated the Chabad stands at the fair, Belgium’s largest annual Jewish event. “Perhaps that’s why the stands attracted such large crowds; people are very curious to see how traditional Judaism can flourish in a place like Brussels, home to so much anti-Semitism and assimilation.”
Pinson estimates that the students, all studying for the year at Yeshiva Ohel Menachem in Brussels, made personal contact with several thousand Jews in the course of the day. Many of those people requested further information on Jewish activities in the area and left their phone numbers with the students to continue contact.
It’s only the first year for Ohel Menachem, but Pinson, who directs the school, says the influx of young Yeshiva students in the city has generated positive Jewish interest in Brussels. In addition to studying for Rabbinic ordination, the students, all in their early twenties, are involved in coordinating a wide variety of classes and events for the Jewish community. “Since the opening of the Yeshiva, Jewish activity in Brussels has taken on a larger scope,” says Pinson, as more and more of Brussels’ Jewish residents have come to join the expanding activities centered around the Yeshiva and three Chabad centers in the city.