New Rabbi in Slovakia Denies There’s Anti-semitism There

The only rabbi in newly independent Slovakia says “there is no anti-Semitism” in the country, according to a Slovak daily.

Rabbi Lazar Kleinman says anti-Jewish sentiment is a thing of the past in Slovakia, whose separation from the Czech Republic on Jan. 1 has given rise to concern over the future of the 3,000-member Jewish community there.

His comments fly in the face of many reports of anti-Semitic incidents and sentiment-in Slovakia that arose with its nascent nationalism in early 1990 and has been felt since.

An interview with the Romanian-born rabbi was published in the Bratislava newspaper Pravda, three days before the official breakup of the 75-year old Czechoslovak federation.

Kleinman, 53, was installed four months ago as rabbi in Kosice, in eastern Slovakia. He is an Australian citizen who studied in Israel and came to his present post from a rabbinic position in Helsinki, Finland.

The front-page display given the interview with him appeared to reflect Slovak concern that Western aid for its struggling economy might be threatened by perceived anti-Semitic and nationalist coloration of political developments there.

A spokesman for the Jewish community said a day after the interview appeared that Slovak Jews expect leaders of the newly independent country to emphatically dissociate themselves from any act reminiscent of the Slovak Nazi puppet state of World War II.

The Dec. 30 statement by Jaroslav Franek, spokesman of the Union of Jewish Communities in Slovakia, came on the eve of formal independence for the republic, which is headed by Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar.

Rabbi Kleinman said the rapprochement between Israel and the Vatican had diminished anti-Semitism in such Catholic countries as Poland, Hungary and the two components of former Czechoslovakia.

Kleinman was asked about “political forces trying to convince the world there is an acute danger of anti-Semitism in Slovakia.”

He replied that his four months in Slovakia had persuaded him there is less anti-Semitism in that country than in many democratic lands of the West. He told Pravda a distinction has to be drawn between anti-Semitism and hooliganism.

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