Montenegro Jews get organized, all 10 of them

Singer Zappa once quipped every self-respecting country needs its own beer and airline. Now add Jewish community to that list.

Montenegro PM, Rabbis (photo credit: Meir Alfasi)
Montenegro PM, Rabbis
(photo credit: Meir Alfasi)
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 list.
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 members.
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 ago.
“We gave awards to the president and speaker of parliament thanking the country for giving refuge to Jews during World War II.”
According to 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 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.”
Despite the community’s humble size, Alfandari said being its leader was hard work and required him to work “26 hours a day.”