Last 16 Jews Leaving Albania Arrive in Israel, Ending Exodus

The last 16 Jews wanting to leave Albania arrived in Israel on Thursday afternoon, completing the exodus of the minuscule Jewish community from what was until just recently the most isolated country in Europe.

An El Al flight from Rome brought the small party, ending a semi-clandestine operation that had been under way since December.

Most, if not all, of Albania’s 300 Jews are now believed to have left that Balkan country of 3.3 million, the last Stalinist enclave on the continent, which is now striving to democratize.

Most of the small community chose to immigrate to Israel. The rest have gone to the United States to reunite with family there.

Arnon Mantver, director general of the Jewish Agency’s aliyah department, who handled the operation, recalled how it started.

Several months ago, the agency received information through Jewish organizations, especially the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, that the tiny Albanian Jewish community was interested in aliyah.

Mantver said the agency was anxious to get them out before the impending elections, which took place last week. There was apprehension that an unpredictable outcome at the polls might have made their departure more difficult.

In fact, the Albanian government offered no obstacles and issued passports to the immigrants.

Its only condition was that before a family departed, one member would travel to Rome or Athens to collect Israeli visas for the family.

The immigrants flew to Israel from either Rome or Athens. The airlift was unpublicized, however, at the requests of the Italian and Greek governments.

The tiny Jewish community, concentrated mostly in the capital, Tirana, encountered no anti-Semitism, according to David Kantosi, 28, who arrived here from Albania two weeks ago.

He said the Communist regime opposed Judaism only in the context of its ideological opposition to all religions. Kantosi said older Jews would gather in private homes to secretly celebrate the Jewish holidays.

According to the Jewish Agency, the Albanian olim include a large number of professionals, such as physicians and engineers.

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