Two Jewish organizational leaders asked Montenegro's president to help the Balkan country's small Jewish community build a synagogue.
The issue was raised during a visit to Montenegro by Vadim Rabinovich and Joel Rubinfeld, both chairmen of the recently established European Jewish Parliament. Montenegro, an area of the former Yugoslavia that became independent in 2006 and has about 660,000 residents, has a Jewish population of a few dozen, according to the EJP. A 2007 Montenegrin statistical study of the country's population found 12 Jews.
Rubinfeld and Rabinovich met with President Flip Vujanovic, Foreign Minister Nebojsa Kaluderovic and other politicians. Local politicians from Montenegro's capital, Podgorica, reportedly support the Jewish community's wishes to build a synagogue and a Jewish community center.
The Montenegrin politicians asked for support for the country’s efforts to qualify to enter the European Union, according to EJP.
Earlier this year, the country's prime minister, Igot Luksic, signed a statement recognizing Judaism as Montenegro's fourth official religion.
According to the European Jewish Congress, “there is no public manifestation of anti-Semitism” in Montenegro and the Holocaust was “not carried out in an organized way” in Montenegro before the end of 1943, when the Germans conquered the area.
Yaakov Alfandari, the leader of the community who was born in Serbia but moved to Montenegro 16 years ago, said about 300 Jews live in the predominantly Christian Orthodox Balkan nation, although he admitted the nucleus consisted of roughly 10 people. As there is no synagogue, 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 area.
“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 other organization.
“There was no one defining moment when we said, ‘We now have a Jewish community,’” he said. “We just did.”Gil Shefler contributed to this report.