The rebirth of Albanian Jewry

December 23, 2010

Here’s a heartening sequel to yesterday’s post about the bravery of Albanian Muslims who defended Jewish refugees against the Nazis. After decades of war, genocide, and Communist repression, the Jewish community in Albania was this month finally officially reborn:

The first chief rabbi of Albania was inaugurated in Tirana last week in the presence of a representative of Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha and Chief Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Amar.

Prime Minister Berisha had expected to attend but because of the floods in Albania, he sent his representative with a blessing and greeting to the new chief rabbi and the Jewish community.

The inauguration is the result of a meeting a number of months ago between Prime Minister Berisha and the Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE) in the RCE’s offices in Brussels. The RCE is an organization dedicated to meeting the needs of Jewish communities in Europe.

During the meeting, the representatives of the RCE thanked Berisha for his efforts and expressed their gratitude for the great support and assistance that the Albanians have made for the Jewish community through sheltering and saving many Jews during the Holocaust.

(…)

The event was also attended by representatives from the Albanian Christian and Muslim communities.

During the RCE’s visit to Tirana, a Jewish center called “Moshe Rabenu” and a synagogue named after the visiting Chief Rabbi of Israel was inaugurated as “Hechal Shlomo”.

Rabbi Kaplan will now preside over a reinvigorated Jewish community. “This will be the first time in 70 years that there will be a minyan (Jewish prayer quorum) in Albania,” Rabbi Kaplan said.

I’ll leave this here without further comment; a happy ending like this really doesn’t need one.

via esqcapades on Twitter

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

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When Muslims saved Jews

December 22, 2010

I regularly (and justifiably) criticize Islam and its apologists for the antisemitism and Jew-hatred that’s hardwired into the faith. But there are exceptions, and these need to be borne in mind so that we don’t cross the line from reasoned, valid criticism to a mindless bigotry that just mirrors our Salafist enemy. Such an exception is the following story, which tells the tale of Albanian Muslims who risked their lives to save thousands of Jews fleeing the Nazis:

“I’ll never forget this – when we were at this guy’s home and he was looking at us sort of like angrily and he said ‘What are you doing here?'” says Gershman. “We said, ‘Well, your family saved this Jewish family,’ and he looked at us and said, ‘So what? Any Albanian would have done the same thing. We did nothing special,’ and he meant it.”The Albanians have a word for this: Besa. It translates as ‘word of honor,’ and is a cultural precept unique to Albania.

“The word Besa in Albanian is kind of protection of when they host a guest, the Albanians, it’s a rule, they protect them with their own lives,” says Alberto Colonomos, a Jewish man born in 1933 in what was then Yugoslavia. He was 10 years old when his family fled to Albania.

“There were about 7,200 Jews living in that area. They deported them to the concentration camps and they deported them all the way to Treblinka. They killed them all, nobody came back. But about 50 families escaped a week or two weeks before the deportation.”

The Jewish family that lived with the Kazazi family (pictured) escaped the Nazis during searches by scrambling through connecting doorways to other homes. “Our parents were not very religious, but they believed in the Koran and Besa,” the grown Kazazi children say. “Without the Koran there is no Besa. Without Besa there is no Koran.”

A wealthy man who worked in a tobacco factory took in the Colonomos family. Unlike many Jews in other parts of Europe who survived the war in cellars and attics, Jews in Albania were given Muslim names and treated as honored guests. Colonomos explains that under Besa, Albanians put their guests before their own family.

“They really hid us with their lives. They knew that the Germans – the consequences if they catch them were very, very stiff. So they would be shot. But when they have that Besa, they will not denounce their guests. They were amazing people.”

Be sure to read the whole thing. I’ll not stop criticizing Islam, but this is a reminder of the good that can be found among all people, and it’s fitting for the season. I hope the exhibit comes my way; I’d like to see it.

via Joshua Treviño

UPDATE: Mr. Gershman has a web site devoted to his exhibit, with photos and stories from the time.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)