The conversation was about diamonds, in a city where many are known as diamantaires, or master diamond-cutters. However, when Kris Peeters, the Flemish Minister-President, mentioned the word, he wasn’t talking about the literal, but about the figurative—about how all human beings are precious gems.
He did this by telling an anecdote about the Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—and his practice of standing for hours distributing single dollar bills as charity.
“One day, someone asked the Rebbe,” he told the crowd, in Flemish, at the opening of the new $3 million Chabad center in Antwerp, Belgium, “if standing for so many hours was not too tiring for him at his advanced age, to which he replied, ‘When one counts diamonds, it does not make you tired.’”
Standing at a lectern with the slogan “The Diamond in Us” inscribed on it, Peeters said that every person is a diamond, referring to the work that Chabad-Lubavitch does across the globe. “Sometimes a diamond is hidden by some dirt; sometimes we have to dig deep for a diamond,” he explained.
“Sometimes the diamond needs to polished and shined, but ultimately, each of us is a diamond. This is indeed the work of Chabad, to help every individual to discover the beauty of the diamond in one’s self.”
Chabad of Antwerp was established more than 30 years ago. For a long time it occupied a four-story building, which was becoming too small for its growing activities.
Bart De Wever, the mayor of Antwerp, presents a declaration in honor of Chabad of Antwerp. (Photo: Donald Woodrow)
Rabbi Shabtai Slavaticki, co-director of the Chabad House of Antwerp, said, “We dreamed that we would be able to purchase the building next door; however, the medical center owned it, and wanted 3 million euros for it.”
When a prominent businessman walked into Chabad one day and offered to purchase the building and renovate it, then signed a pledge and affixed his signature on the necessary documents, the Chabad House mortgaged its own property for a down payment. Months and months passed, and the donor’s pledge never materialized. With its investment in jeopardy, Chabad searched for other sources of funding, and eventually found an investor to go through with the sale.
“If not for that guy who walked into our building,” said Slavaticki, “we would have never dreamt of going ahead with the purchase. By divine providence, his pledge forced us to think big, and now we will have adequate space.”
The new Chabad House comprises a hall, offices, synagogue, library and playground. The synagogue is said to be one of the most beautiful in Antwerp, with its construction providing a practical and contemporary look.
The old Chabad House, which is now connected to the new one via the backs of the buildings, will be transformed into a multipurpose space that can be used for youth activities.
“It is essential to Chabad philosophy,” said Bart De Wever, the mayor of Antwerp, “that everyone is welcome to the synagogue. There is an atmosphere of openness, of reflection and inquisitiveness. The Chabad House in Antwerp is a home for everyone, and it is a privilege to serve as mayor of a city where people cherish Chabad.”
“The Rebbe taught us,” said the event’s guest of honor, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, “to seek out the son who does not know how to ask, and to reach out to the son who may not join us at the Passover table.”
For Slavaticki, this is just the beginning: “This gives us the opportunity to reach even more Jews, and there will come a day when we will be growing out of the seams of this location as well.”