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The Belgian city of Antwerp has the largest diamond market in the world.Orthodox Jews controlled the trade for centuries, but now globalization has seen them displaced by dealers hailing from India.
Flemish Antwerp in many ways resembles Holland's Amsterdam, but it doesn't have the latter's cosmopolitan attitudes.Insiders estimate he spent 14 million on the bast.And the cricket games arranged every year by one of the large Indian families see each clan trying to outdo the others in terms of pomp and luxury.There are even some Jewish-Indian married couples in Antwerp."Judaism and our Jainisim have a number of similarities," diamond dealer Ramesh Mehta explains.He adds that he can understand why some Jews are seeking ties to Vlaams Belang, whose party chairman Filip Dewinter will probably become Antwerp's new governor.
Antwerp's Jewish community has fiercely defended its monopoly on the actual craftsmanship involved in the diamond trade.
"The Yiddish mensch is losing his bread," Hoffmann says.
What he means is that Jewish traders have lost their central position in Antwerp's diamond business. More than 500 years after the arrival of Spanish and Portuguese Sephardic Jews in Flanders, an era is drawing to a close.
The mood among the diamond dealers is not the best. Agreements are sealed with a handshake, accompanied by an old religious well-wish: masl un broche -- happiness and blessing. But Yiddish is slowly losing its status as the main language of the exchange. The High Diamond Council, the trade's main governing body, has only recently caught up with the times.
Earlier this month Indians won five of the six elected seats on the 11-member board.
But take a look at the Jewish quarter behind Antwerp's Central Station and you can tell it's seen better days.