Belgian Jews Soberly Celebrate Purim Holiday Following Brussels Terror Attacks

The characteristically merry spring festival encourages revelers to eat to excess and drink so much that they cannot tell the difference between good and evil — but parties in Brussels have been canceled.
March 23, 2016, 9:35pm
Purim revelers in Tel Aviv in 2015. (Photo by Abir Sultan/EPA)

Jewish congregations in Brussels have decided to cancel this year's Purim festivities in light of the recent terror attacks on the Belgian capital, both for security reasons and out of respect for a national three-day period of mourning.

Purim, which was slated to begin on Wednesday at sundown, is a characteristically merry spring festival commemorating a story in the Book of Esther when good triumphed over evil and Jews in the Persian Empire escaped annihilation. Participants in the holiday are generally encouraged to wear silly costumes, eat to excess, and drink so much they cannot tell the difference between Mordecai and Haman — the embodiments of good and evil.

But while Brussels continues to reel in the aftermath of Tuesday's attacks, congregation leaders are taking a more sober approach to this year's spring festival.

"In general, we have to be careful," a staff member at the Great Synagogue of Europe told the Washington Post. He added that it would be "too much of a risk" to ask hundreds of Jews to come out to celebrate Purim.

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The Great Synagogue had planned a concert for hundreds of attendees, which has since been canceled. It will instead host a somber worship service and read passages from the Book of Esther. The employee told the Post that he expects no more than 70 people to show up for the service.

While the recent attack on Brussels and Paris attacks back in November have stoked the fire of Islamophobia in Europe, incidents of anti-Semitism have also occurred. The rise of violent Islamic extremism and the growing popularity of neo-Nazi movements has left many of Belgium's 300,000 Jews feeling a ill at ease.

Antwerp's police commissioner reportedly put out a statement containing very clear instructions about this year's festivities. Police are asking participants in the festival not to wear masks that cover their faces, and not to carry any toy weapons. They've also asked revelers to abstain from setting off any fireworks or any other device that could make a banging sound.

The Jewish Crisis Management Team of Antwerp told the Jerusalem Post that they were urging the community to take the rules seriously.

Related: What We Know So Far About the Brussels Attacks

"With police and army on very high alert, all these cause confusions and are potentially dangerous," the team said. "No public feasting is allowed. This includes mobile floats, decorated buses, organized marches and music in the street. Police will enforce these rules."

"The routine right now is difficult," said Rabbi Menachem Margolin, director of the European Jewish Association and head of the Rabbinical Center of Europe. "There's a feeling of insecurity."

He added that he didn't believe Tuesday's attacks were anti-Semitic.

"The attacks were not directed at Jews," he said, "but against all the citizens of Europe, who are getting used to a new reality."