Jewish African Woman

Bruxelles _
I am in the European Union capital for a few days. My business meeting is over and first things first, I need to find a shul (synagogue in Yiddish) for Shabbat service. There is a Conservative shul I found online, but it’s clear across town and I don’t feel like schlepping all the way there.

It’s Friday afternoon, Shabbat is starting in a few hours and I’m desperate. A friend suggests that I simply go out and ask any Jewish person that passes by. Dressed in my Congolese business outfit, I do just that. I am in luck. I see a man wearing a kippah and speaking in English to his son who has little curls on the sides of his face. Orthodox Jews! Perfect.

I approach him and ask if there is a shul in the neighborhood. He looks at me warily and sends me two doors down. When I knock at the door, a young woman answers.

“Do you know of any shul in the neighborhood?” I ask her.

She looks at me with suspicion and gives me an email address to find shuls in Belgium.

“Lady! It’s less than an hour before Shabbat,” I say. “Do you think anyone will read their emails before Shabbat?”

She realizes then that maybe this black woman standing before her is Jewish. So she gives me an address: “109 …”

I decide to go and check it out just in case it’s a phony address. When I get to the place, it looks like a house. There is no sign. No name. Just the number 109. A man who looks like a bouncer intercepts me even before I knock at the door.

“Is this a shul?” I ask him.

“What is your business here?” He demands.

“I want to attend Shabbat service tomorrow morning.”


“What’s the matter? Don’t I look Jewish to you?” I ask him, pointing to myself.

He looks at my African outfit and shrugs. I realize he’s simply doing his job; I tell him yes, I am Jewish _ from Chicago.

“From Chicago?” He asks me to wait. An orthodox man, wearing a black hat, comes out and introduces himself as being from Brooklyn, New York. “Which shul do you go to in Chicago?”

I tell him and answer all his other questions. He invites me to the Shabbat service; I must have passed the test.

The next morning, I walk to shul and find a lovely community of people from all over the world: France, Finland, Belgium, Germany, England, Slovakia… And the man from New York is the rabbi. A cute little girl comes up to me and asks why I am brown. I smile and tell her it’s because I like to hang out in the sun (my ancestors too for that matter). Praying together, there are Ultra Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, and Jews who can barely read Hebrew. As a Conservative Jew, I fit perfectly in the middle.

The people I saw yesterday, all come up to me and apologize for being so guarded. There had been some attacks on synagogues in the city. That’s why the shul looks like a house.

I am invited to the Kiddush afterwards. We sit outside in the backyard, with children, running all over the lawn. We eat and talk for hours; it feels like an afternoon spent with family and friends.

I look forward to praying in that community again the next time I am in Bruxelles, whether or not I am wearing a Congolese outfit.


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