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Located opposite Antwerp’s diamond exchange, the Portuguese Synagogue was bombed by terrorists on October 20, 1981.

The first diamond traders settled in Antwerp during the 16th century, when about 30,000 Jews fled the Spanish Inquisition. One indication of the Jewish community’s continuing importance in the diamond trade is the presence of the Portuguese Synagogue in Hoveniersstraat, the main diamond district opposite Antwerp’s diamond exchange.

The membership of the Portuguese Synagogue is about 300 families, only a small fraction of Antwerp’s population of more than 18,000 people. Truly, it may be said the Portuguese Synagogue is located in Western Europe’s last real Shtetl. Within the surrounding square mile there are numerous synagogues, prayer houses, kosher butchers and Jewish restaurants. More than one half of the city’s Jews are affiliated and 95% of the Jewish children are educated in Jewish schools, one half of which are Orthodox.

Outside the Portuguese Synagogue there is a plaque commemorating the October 20, 1981 car bombing of the Synagogue. It so happened that the date fell on the holiday of Shmini Atzeras. For some reason the congregation decided to meet for services at 10:00 a.m. instead of the usual 9:00 a.m. The car bomb exploded at 9:30 a.m. before the congregation had arrived. Three people, non-Jews, were killed and many others were injured.