Friday, October 29, 2010

(NEWS) Albania Still Has Welcome Mat Out For Jews

"TORONTO – A unique and exciting Holocaust Education Week (HEW) event this year will be a presentation on Albania, a country that was unusual in its determination to protect its Jewish population during World War II.

In fact, Albania had more Jews after the war than it did beforehand. BESA, a code of honour stressing religious tolerance and hospitality, was adhered to in Albania and is considered to be the reason that Jews were safe there.

Travel writer Vera Held, who visited Albania in September, will emcee the program, which will include a 90-minute presentation and photos of her trip. An Albanian Jew whose family was saved during the years of the Holocaust by an Albanian family, as well as two Albanians whose families saved Jews and were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Gentiles, will participate.

Discussing her trip with the Jewish Tribune, Held said that as a Jew, she was treated with 'incredible respect and warmth. I can’t tell you how welcome I felt.

'Jam Hebre means ‘I am a Jew,’ and the response was always, ‘I love the Jewish people.’ Everybody was thrilled – not one or two, but everybody. That was the reaction I got every single time.

'Nobody engaged me in conversation about Israeli politics,' she said. 'They don’t seem particularly interested. They were interested in my story, a Jewish Canadian with a European background. They think Jews are Israelis because the word for Jew is Hebre, meaning Hebrew.'

BESA continues to prevail in Albania, Held explained; 'Everybody gets along. I knocked on a door in Delvina [a small town outside of Saranda] and a man invited me and my tour guide into his home. I told him my story and he said: My father was an imam and the family saved three Jewish families during WWII.

'I left with a great big necklace of fresh figs and beautiful mountain tea…. They were absolute strangers. That’s what happens in Albania. Everybody is helpful, friendly, kind and tolerant.

'I got the exact same treatment in Ioannina, Greece, where there are 35 Jews left,' she added. She spent Rosh Hashanah with the Romaniote community – Jews who went there directly from Jerusalem centuries ago and not via Spain, like the Sephardim.

Albania is a mix of the old and the new, she said, describing the 'unparallelled, over 2,000-year-old cobblestone streets in Jirokatra' and a beautiful excavated synagogue in Saranda from the 5th century CE.

According to Held, currently there are approximately 100 Jews in Albania, scattered in major centres, and there is no functioning synagogue.

'It’s a society of tolerance, and what they practice is healthy secularism,' she stated. 'Yes, there are churches and mosques. I shot photos of a Muslim wedding during Ramadan where there was food, drink and dancing. And from what I was told, that’s quite typical.'

The program will take place at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 7, at Sala Caboto in Villa Colombo, 40 Playfair Ave." (source)

Want alerts for new videos?
Like us on Facebook.