Albanian Jews 311.
(photo credit: Chabad)
Last month, the Albanian government appointed Rabbi Yoel Kaplan as the former
communist country’s first chief rabbi, amid much fanfare.
But in an angry
letter recently sent to The Jerusalem Post, members of the local Jewish
community complained the position had been created without consultation, and
declared that they refused to recognize his authority.
alienate ourselves from this illicit and incorrect act, which was carried out in
total discordance to the historical and religious traditions and principles of
our nation,” stated the letter, which was signed by 34 of the country’s
estimated 150 Jews.
“We strongly appeal and urge all the Albanian
institutions and the international Jewish organizations to preliminary consult
the Albanian-Jewish community before taking any action that would directly
impact its dignity and community life, since we do not recognize Rabbi Yoel
Kaplan as Albania’s Chief Rabbi.”
The signatories also alleged that Sokol
Pirra, who helped facilitate Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar’s visit to Albania
and who the signatories said had lobbied to create the position, was an impostor.
“Mr. Sokol Pirra is not the representative of our community,”
they declared. “He is not even one of its members, because his connections to
Judaism are very unclear at least, not to say inexistent.”
had initially been unaware of the letter’s existence, responded to its criticism
of his appointment in an e-mail this week, saying his critics within the
community misunderstood his mission.
“The people behind the letter fear
losing their role as unofficial representatives of Israeli-Albanian commercial
ties,” he said. “Of course, such fears need not exist. My clear and sole goal is
reinforcing Jewish life. Up until now, there have been gatherings for
international Holocaust Remembrance Day and, at best, Israel’s Independence Day
as well. We want to reinforce an active Jewish life throughout the year and
establish an active community center.”
Jews have lived the area of
present-day Albania for at least 1,300 years. Under the communist regime, all
religions were suppressed, but when Albania opened up to the world in 1991, the
majority of the remaining 300 Jews were airlifted to Israel. Only a few, mostly
living in the capital Tirana, where the country’s only functioning synagogue is
located, remained behind.
Yossi Levi, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign
Ministry, which was also sent a copy of the letter, said on Monday that it
wasn’t the ministry’s position to comment on appointments of rabbis in Jewish
“This is up to local communities to decide,” he
said on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Kaplan said he would continue to serve the
community despite the criticism from some of its members.
“The letter is
indeed charged, but now the Albanian community has joined other Jewish
communities around the world: There are camps in favor and against,” he wrote in
the e-mail. “A day will come where, God willing, I will bring them together.”