As the army stood guard in the muted streets of Brussels and security forces continued their manhunt for an armed terrorist still at large after terror attacks rocked this city on Tuesday, Jewish people gathered to celebrate the joyous holiday of Purim in at least two locations there.
“There were many children, and for a few moments, we managed to leave the tense atmosphere behind and take comfort in our community, our faith and G‑d,” said Chabad Rabbi Shmuel Pinson, leader of Communauté Israélite D’Uccle-Forest, also known as the Maalé Synagogue, which is located less than two kilometers from the apartment where police found and killed terrorists.
“We learned from Mordechai of old. He did not bow to Haman, and we will not bow our spirits in the face of the modern-day Hamans.”
The multiple bombings at Brussels Airport and one outside a metro station killed at least 30 people and wounded more than 200. The city remained on lockdown afterwards, with flights suspended and the airport closed until Friday.
Taking part in national mourning, community members came to services with their costumes in suitcases and backpacks, and dressed up inside, once they had cleared security.
In Pinson’s community, as well as a second celebration in the south of the city organized by Rabbi Mordehai Chalencon, the services began with a solemn moment of silence and a prayer for King Philippe of Belgium.
“While a number of synagogues closed and some canceled the celebratory aspect of the program, we determined that the best course of action would be celebrate,” says Pinson, who hosted more than 200 people at his synagogue’s event, complete with entertainment in the spirit of the holiday.
“The subways are not yet working, the army is out in the street, and it is natural for people, especially Jewish people, to be frightened.
“But for two hours,” he stressed, “it was just Purim.”