The late, great singer Frank Zappa once quipped that every self-respecting
country needs its own beer and airline.
Add a Jewish community to the
Since Montenegro gained independence from Serbia in 2006, a handful
of Jews there have been busy setting up an organization representing their
community in the country, which may count no more than 10 active
On Tuesday, in a ceremony held at the state theater in the
capital Podogroica, the tiny Jewish community hosted a few hundred guests in a
celebration marking the first anniversary of its founding.
“We had a
Jewish band come from Belgrade to play,” said Yaakov Alfandari, the leader of
the community who was born in Serbia but moved to Montenegro 16 years
“We gave awards to the president and speaker of parliament thanking
the country for giving refuge to Jews during World War II.”
Alfandari, about 300 Jews live in the predominantly Christian Orthodox Balkan
nation, although he admitted the nucleus consisted of roughly 10 people. A
survey from 2007 reported 12 self-identifying Jews. There is no synagogue and
holidays are celebrated at home, he said.
Jews first arrived on the
shores of today’s Montenegro from Spain in the 15th century, but they did not
stay for long before moving on to Turkey. There was no recorded Jewish presence
until World War II when Jews from nearby regions took refuge in the mountainous
“My grandmother and aunt were saved because they came to hide
here,” Alfandari said.
Few remained after the war ended and today’s
active community members are mostly newcomers from Israel.
“All sorts of
Israelis started to show up for various reasons after independence,” Alfandari,
who lived in Israel for many years, said in Hebrew.
He said his community
grew organically and did not organize at the behest of the government or any
“There was no one defining moment when we said, ‘We
now have a Jewish community,’” he said. “We just did.”
community’s humble size, Alfandari said being its leader was hard work and
required him to work “26 hours a day.”