ROME (Sep. 26)
The sound of the shofar was heard in Albania this High Holiday season for the first time in at least 50 years.
About two-thirds of Albania’s estimated 60 Jews gathered in the capital of Tirana just before Rosh Hashanah for a High Holiday celebration organized by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
“We talked with them, explained to them what Rosh Hashanah is,” the JDC’s Manlio Dell’ Ariccia, who helped organized the event, said in an interview at his rome office.
“We organized games and activities that also were linked to Rosh Hashanah,” he said, “and then we blew the shofar.”
Albania had a small Jewish community before World War II. In the postwar years, the hard-line Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha banned all religious observance, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.
After the fall of the Communist regime earlier this decade, most of the 300 Jews in Albania left for Israel. Those who remained knew practically nothing about Judaism or Jewish observance.
This year, a young Jew from Rome, Asher Habib, went to Tirana at Chanukah to teach local Jews about the holiday and to light the menorah. He also went to Albania just before Passover to explain about the holiday and demonstrate how to hold a seder.
In the summer of 1995, almost all of Albania’s 17 Jewish youths were sent for the first time to participate in the JDC-Lauder Foundation International Jewish summer camp in Szarvas, Hungary.
Fourteen of the Albanian youths repeated the experience this past summer.
“It was their first collective experience with Judaism,” Dell’ Ariccia said. “It was extremely positive for the kids to be together.”