In Kosovo's Tiny 'Jerusalem,' a Struggle To Sustain Jewish Life in Corner of Balkans

Letter From Prizren

liam hoare

By Liam Hoare

Published July 02, 2013, issue of July 05, 2013.
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Waves of property theft by the Yugoslav monarchy prior to World War II, the Communist government during the postwar era and the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milošević further muddle the picture.

The struggle to sustain Jewish life has not halted attempts by Kosovo’s Jews and Jewish charities to carry on the spirit of intercommunity cooperation. Between 1999 and 2006, the JDC was active in Kosovo, engaging in nonsectarian projects that benefited the local Albanian population. Perhaps the most significant of these, at least symbolically, was the reconstruction of a mosque in Shqiponja, a hill village in the west of Kosovo.

During Milošević’s onslaught against Kosovo, Shqiponja’s mosque was one of 200 or so such places of worship damaged, desecrated or destroyed by Serbian forces. Working alongside Kosovo’s Islamic and Catholic communities, the JDC helped finance the restoration of a structure that was but a shell, including the rebuilding of the golden-hued domes and a single minaret.

The JDC funds visits for the Prizren Jews with other Jewish communities in the region so that they can “recharge their batteries,” as Demiri put it. Periodically, the JDC also makes sure the children are able to partake in Jewish summer camps organized for all the youth in the former Yugoslavia, held in Pirovac, Croatia.

Despite the challenges, the Jewish community goes to great lengths to mark every Sabbath and holy day as it can. Members hold events in each other’s houses, often in Demiri’s so-called ‘Jewish house,’ a stone’s throw from the mosques in the narrow streets of the Old City.

For now and the foreseeable future, Demiri said, “I am the president, the rabbi and the cantor.”

Contact Liam Hoare at feedback@forward.com


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