Ostende Synagogue ©Alec Vuijlsteke

The synagogue of the handsome coastal town of Ostend becomes busy in the summer. It was built partly with the help of rich financiers. At one time as many as 300 families came to pray here. Among the famous Jewish figures who stayed in Ostend were Marc Chagall and Albert Einstein.

Ostend is a seaside town that has been very popular with British holidaymakers for centuries, as James Joyce, for example, testified. But also for the Belgian working class. The Ostend painter James Ensor depicts the characters and landscapes of the city in his work. It was also the birthplace of the Belgian singer Arno.

The Jewish presence in Ostend has been noted since the 16th century, but it was especially consolidated at the turn of the 19th century. After the independence of the country, the Belgian authorities recognised the Jewish communities as early as 1831. Nevertheless, the community of Ostend did not benefit from this recognition, probably because of its small size.

The coastal town attracted many tourists and Belgians looking for a better life, which also motivated some Jews. Thus, at the end of the 19th century, some 300 Jewish families stayed there during the summer period. About 100 Jews lived there. On 10 December 1910, the Ostend Jewish community, recognised as such by the authorities since 1904, obtained a permit to build a synagogue. It was designed by the architect Joseph De Lange and inaugurated on 29 August 1911. It is in Romanesque style, inspired by the synagogues of Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Strasbourg, and is located in Place Philippe de Maastricht. It can accommodate up to 600 people. This synagogue is unusual in that it is little frequented by Jews. Its beauty and harmonious proportions have made it a popular tourist attraction. Indeed, it is supported by contributions from non-Jews. It is the only synagogue in west Flanders to have a facade giving onto the street.

The Jewish population of Ostend doubles during the interwar period. The Shoah claimed many victims among the Ostend Jews. Nevertheless, the community was rebuilt after the war and the synagogue was still in operation.

Sources : Consistoire, Politique et Religion : le Consistoire Central de Belgique au XIXe siècle