I grew up in Brussels. It’s a small city with not that many Jews and, unlike Antwerp Jews, most of them are secular.

Which means that, for most Jews in Brussels, Jewish life doesn’t revolve around the synagogue, but around their youth movement. And, boy, what youth movements!

Around the time I was growing up, in the 1980s and 1990s, there were five Zionist youth movements operating in Brussels, and the whole movement scene was vibrant and amazing.  Betar tried to start a branch in Brussels at some point but I don’t think they were very successful.

Apart from Bne Akivah, all the other movements (Hashomer Hatzair, Hanoar Hatzioni, Dror and a local movement called JJL – Secular Jewish Youth) met at their respective Kens every Saturday afternoon of the year.

Each kvutza would have weekly peulot, games, different chugim…then we’d go to our own kol-bo to buy our kumzit, then all kvutzot would get together for a few songs, and to say good bye until the next week. At least that’s how we did things at Hashomer Hatzair.

Every year at Lag Ba’Omer, we’d have an all-movements sports day with a picnic.

But, weather permitting, we would often congregate to the same park on Saturdays anyway to compete against each other (especially the Dror and Hanoar) at ‘criks’ – a sort of dodgeball game.

Teenagers would usually go straight from their movement’s Ken to go ‘uptown’ to the cinema and to eat at Quick’s (the local McDonald’s). As we were all still in our movements’ chultzot, we’d all walk past each other in little groups, giving each other the stare of death. It was totally like in West Side Story.

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