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The Great Synagogue of Brussels was officially designated the Great Synagogue of Europe in a special ceremony. Some 1,100 people, including rabbis and Jewish community leaders from more than 15 European countries, attended Wednesday’s ceremony hosted by Brussels Chief Rabbi Albert Guigui. Speakers included Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks of Great Britain and the Commonwealth and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. A newly composed Prayer for Europe was read, followed by the signing of a document formalizing the relationship between the European Union, the local community and the Conference of European Rabbis, which co-hosted the event. Three renowned cantors, Joseph Muller and his sons Israel and Benjamin, accompanied by the synagogue and European Union choirs, sang Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” the E.U.’s hymn, and other compositions.

Sacks is the associate president of the Conference of European Rabbis, which federates Orthodox religious leadership in more than 40 European states. He reminded the audience, which included non-Jewish clergy and government officials, that Jews and Judaism have long played a part in the creation of a European identity.

Sacks expressed the Jewish community’s commitment to building bridges between communities, and to strengthening European society as a whole. Barroso in his remarks said the European Diaspora “was in some ways a premonition of Europe as it is today. It was a Europe avant-la-lettre, with the Jewish community finding unity in diversity within itself.” A plaque was unveiled in the sanctuary to mark the occasion.

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