Albanian Jewry Gets Its Own Museum

Dec. 22 2022

Exiled by the sultan to a town in what is now Montenegro, the 17th-century false messiah Shabbetai Tsvi, although a nominal convert to Islam, was desperate to acquire some Jewish books. Thus, not long before his death he wrote to the nearby Jewish community of Berat, requesting that they send some. Berat was but one of several flourishing Jewish communities in what is now Albania, the largest of which was located in Vlorë—a city that will now get a Jewish museum. Avi Kumar writes:

The museum intends to provide a comprehensive look at Albanian Jewish life through the ages, as the Jewish presence in the Balkan nation has been documented since the 2nd century CE. From Greek-speaking Romaniotes to Spanish Sephardim fleeing persecution in the 15th century to Hungarian Ashkenazim who came much later, the combination of a mountainous region and proximity to Italy and Greece created a distinct Jewish culture.

By the outbreak of World War II, an estimated 1,800 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution arrived in Albania due to its liberal visa policies. Some were hoping to continue on to North and South America, British Mandatory Palestine, or other places of refuge. A few of them ended up making Albania their permanent home. An estimated 2,000 Jews were saved thanks to the efforts of local Albanian Muslims, and the country was one of the few European nations whose Jewish population had increased by the end of World War II.

The Jewish population of Vlorë totaled approximately 2,600 in the 1500s, when the city was a trade hub due to its coastal location and proximity to Italy. Today, there are just 50 to 100 Albanian-born Jews, most of whom live in the country’s capital and largest city, Tiranë. There are also around 200 foreign Jews in the Balkan nation.

Read more at JNS

More about: Albania, Balkan Jewry, Holocaust rescue, Jewish museums, Shabbetai Tzvi

Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy