What is more unique than being a Jew in the Netherlands? Being a Belgian Jew in the Netherlands!

I am a Belgian-Israeli student at Maastricht University, undertaking a BA in European Studies. On the side, I am very active in the Jewish community, and I also recently started working as Youth Development Officer at the European Jewish Association.

So yes, I feel connected to our people and our traditions, whether on Campus or through work. After coming to the realization that every Jewish community is quite different (and spending most to all of my life in Antwerp’s Jewish bubble), I feel confident and passionate in observing and documenting the very interesting differences based on city and country! 

Joods jood nederland chabad on campus gemeenschap

There is no such thing as ‘European Jews’, and I want people to realize such. For example, Belgian’s Jewish community is quite dense but more divided due to differences in observance, denominations and the very noticeable linguistic differences between Antwerp’s Flemish and Brussels’ French. 

Fortunately, most to all secular Jews in Antwerp grew up as polyglots – being able to speak French, Dutch, English and Hebrew fluently and ironically becoming the ‘’perfect Belgians’’.

I quickly noticed that the Dutch Jewish community is relatively more coherent and interconnected whilst the youth is more engaged in Jewish matters!

However, the most fascinating community I have ever come across was the one in Sarajevo (Bosnia & Herzegovina). Once comprising 25% of the city’s inhabitants, I was shocked to find this Jerusalem of Europe thriving in harmony with multiple Synagogues adjacent to Mosques and Churches and a Jewish community originating from every corner of Europe and Israel.

Most impressive, however, is the fact that the community still prays in Ladino! I nearly came to tears once I realized I could communicate better with the congregation in my broken Spanish than English since most older members spoke the unique language, which combines 15th century Spanish and Hebrew!

Jewish Netherlands community chabad on campus

Such are some things I do for work; research, train, and educate. 

Since I was already quite busy with ‘’Jewsplaining’’ (i.e. Educating people who had never met a Jew or Israeli before) at University, I found it relatively easy to transition to the European Jewish Association.

The challenges of transition? A lot of stress due to high-stake responsibilities. However, what motivates me is that I can help out our great community in Europe through my work. In this case, I believe my work is worth the effort and losing a few hairs over.

Ethan Bergman
Ethan is an Antwerp native and has an absolute passion for Israel and Jewish activism. He is currently studying at the University of Maastricht and works at the EJA as an EU Youth Affairs Officer.

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