Date: Mon, 3 Jan 2011 11:16:19 -0500
Subject: [LKAB_cameri-arvaniti] FW: Shliach Crowned Albania's First Chief RabbiShliach Crowned Albania's First Chief Rabbi
Albania appointed its first ever chief rabbi on Monday in a ceremony attended by Albanian Prime Minister Sali Barisha and Israel's Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, held at a synagogue in the capital city of Tirana.
Rabbi Joel Kaplan assumed the newly created position becoming the official head of the tiny local Jewish community in Tirana which has had a presence in the Balkan country for 1,300 years but now numbers only 150 people. The position was created by the local government at the request of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE), a Jewish organization based in Brussles, during a meeting it held with Barisha.
“The Rabbinical Centre of Europe’s mission is to assist any European Jewish communities, whether they are large of small, affiliated or non-affiliated,” Rabbi Aryeh Goldberg, RCE deputy head, said. “Albanian Jewry has a long and illustrious history and the current community needs a spiritual leader to ensure its vitality and continuity.”
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Thanks to a quick-witted, prominent Albanian-American intellectual, the following is a repudiation by Albania's Jews of Tirana's new Chief Rabbi. Read on...
Albanian Jews and Shlomo Amar
Albanian Jews reject appointment of new chief rabbi
By GIL SHEFLER
Members of the local Jewish community complain the position created without consultation, and declare that they refuse to recognize his authority.
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.
“We completely 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.”
Kaplan, who 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 communities overseas.
“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.”