At last week’s International football game hosted in Wembley Stadium, England, in a surprise twist, beat Spain – a feat that has not occurred for the last fifteen years. Rarely does the underdog defeat the standing champion, but when that happens, there is a moment of magic felt by all those in attendance. Alex, an avid England fan, tried to explain how momentous the feeling was and was only able to compare it to the event that he attended over the weekend in Brussels.

As a Jew living in a small town in Ukraine he is often asked why support England? “To me it is an obvious choice”, he says. “Growing up in Ukraine I have always felt a strong Jewish pride, despite the difficulties that we face with the rise of assimilation and anti-Semitism that have been plaguing Europe. England in this past match showed the world, what I always knew. That they have something to be proud of and so do I. When I walked down the stairs to join the singing and dancing in the foyer at the conclusion of Shabbat for the havdallah service, I took a moment to look around to watch the faces of the new friends that I have made. There was the same expression in everyone’s eyes – a feeling of pride, camaraderie, friendship and unity. As big as that match was last week, this moment was even more moving and was felt by every single person in the room.”

“Instilling Jewish pride is one of our main objectives,” says ECJS Executive Director Rabbi Zevi Ives. “Many students and young professionals throughout Europe feel disconnected from one another in their day-to-day lives. The weekend events that we host re-energize our participants, who return to their hometowns with a deeper sense of pride. At our annual Party Like a Jew event in Brussels, more than 500 Jews attended the weekend with the Saturday night ball attracting 1,000 attendees from around Europe.”

The European Center for Jewish Students (ECJS) in partnership with the European Jewish Union (EJU) rolled out the red carpet for their annual gala event in Brussels, Belgium, this past weekend. Participants hailed from 32 countries worldwide including Ukraine, Luxembourg, Moldova, Sweden and Lithuania.

The weekend itself went off without a hitch, starting out at the famous Delirium Bar in Brussels where participants were given a tasting and explanation of three select Belgian Beers. Shabbat was ushered in with hundreds of participants singing, eating and mingling. During dinner, spontaneous dancing broke out as hundreds of singing voices reached a crescendo. Rabbi Levi Garelik, scholar in residence for Shabbat, addressed many issues including the power of the individual, Jewish identity and discrepancies between science and Torah. As always, havdallah was a highlight for many as arms were linked in unity as the blessings to conclude Shabbat were sung in a melodious tune. The Saturday evening annual ball run by UEJB, the Belgian Union of Jewish Students, had a masquerade theme where participants dressed in beautifully-designed masks and partied the night away.

Touring included the two major cities of Belgium: Brussels and Antwerp with an emphasis on Jewish life, history and influence in both cities.

The annual three-day event that took place in the headquarters of ECJS and the EU gave the opportunity for hundreds of current and future leaders of European Jewry to share ideas and build lifelong friendships. For many, this was their first ECJS event. For some, it was their first Jewish event of this scale. One participant remarked that he had such a good time that he would like to change his New Year’s plans to join ECJS and EJU for their next event in Athens.

Friendship and camaraderie should not be taken for granted, especially in Europe where the Jewish population has fallen to an alarming low. The European Jewish Union (EJU) and the European Center for Jewish Students (ECJS) – Europe’s largest, most effective Jewish student organization serving thousands of young adults from dozens of countries – have forged a strategic partnership to actively strengthen Jewish life in Europe through emphasis on education, social programs and cultural activities. This partnership unites ECJS’ large following of students and young professionals from around Europe and its event-planning expertise together with EJU’s educational, social and cultural programming for a greater impact on the next generation of Jewish activists.

About: ECJS is an international non-profit organization based in Brussels, Belgium which works to bring Jewish students and young professionals, aged 18 to 35, together in order to preserve and unify the Jewish European society. The organization holds five main events a year throughout Europe as well as arranging services and meals for Shabbatot and holidays, annual trips to Israel and much, much more. Ever expanding ECJS is now branching out to reach even more young Jews. A sister organization, JEP (Jewish European Professionals) is to be launched later this year and is to cater specifically for single Jewish young professionals aged 27-38.

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