Italy expelling Moroccan imam who called for killing of Jews


Italy is expelling a Moroccan imam who called for Jews to be killed.
Raoudi Aldelbar, the imam of a mosque in the town of San Dona di Piave, near Venice, was filmed during a sermon there last month saying, among other things, “Oh Allah, bring upon [Jews] that which will make us happy. Count them one by one, and kill them one by one.”
The video clip of the sermon was posted on the website of the Middle East Media Research Institute and later shared on social media.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said he had ordered the “immediate expulsion” of Aldelbar “for seriously disturbing public order, being a danger to national security and for religious discrimination.”
The decision was made after counterterrorism, police and other security experts had examined the video and investigated.
Alfano said it was “unacceptable to pronounce a speech of clear anti-Semitic tone, containing explicit incitements to violence and religious hatred.” He said his decision to expel the imam would serve “as a warning to anyone who thinks that in Italy one can preach hate.”

Unleashing dance, offstage


Choreographer Heidi Duckler isn’t content simply to make works for a stage. To her, the whole of Los Angeles, the whole of the world, even, is fit for dancing. Why leap across a theater floor when you can glide around the lobby of an office building? Why spin atop sprung wood when you can frolic in a laundromat?

Duckler, 60, has been bringing her unique dance-as-urban-exploration to the world for 28 years as director of the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre. Staging productions in places as disparate as Los Angeles City Hall, the Van Nuys bus terminal and on an elevated glass bridge in Hong Kong, her works have challenged audiences to reconsider the spaces they inhabit daily.

“The vision, even though it’s expanded, hasn’t really changed,” Duckler said recently by phone, of her nearly three decades with her company. “It’s very adaptable and flexible. There’s always something fresh.”

Although Duckler’s earlier pieces were often what she described as “non-heroic works” that took place “in laundromats and gas stations,” she was always committed to the idea of using the outside world as art. And so, when she was approached by the Long Beach Arts Council to craft a piece in one of the open spaces in that city, she jumped at the chance. “They were looking for art to animate the land … to create a sense of hope,” Duckler recalled of the call that would lead to the birth of her “Expulsion” series.

Duckler, who enjoys working with locals when she creates a site-specific project, brought on the Khmer Arts Academy as her collaborator. Duckler’s previous project had been about Eve, and so she decided to weave the story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden with the Cambodian exodus story and create a whole new work about exile. It’s a theme that she has reinvented with Native Americans in Portland, Ore., and will rework again on March 16, with the Latino community in Boyle Heights.

“Expulsion” is performed on a large piece of scaffolding, a form that has remained a constant throughout all the incarnation. Much of the rest of the piece changes, however, depending upon the context. “I sort of see that scaffolding as the bones, the body, the framework,” said Duckler, who notes that the current version of the piece contains new twists. “The expulsion story from the Mexican-American community is really different. … It was an immigration story, but now it’s an emigration story — they’re being sent back.”

In “Expulsion,” dancers move around, over, through and on top of the large piece of scaffolding that is the central element of the piece. They interact with the metal, hanging off of it, spinning around it, at times almost like gymnasts upon an apparatus. For the March 16 performance, the scaffolding will be located at 101 S. Boyle Ave., in the heart of Boyle Heights.

Duckler’s dancers will be joined there by members of the Danza Floricanto/USA company, which practices traditional Mexican folk dance. And although Duckler’s dancers are familiar with “Expulsion,” the dancers from Danza Floricanto/USA will be invited to “develop their own gestures” and bring their own unique flair to the project.

“It takes a different kind of dancer. It takes a dancer that’s willing to take a risk, and willing to be malleable,” Duckler said. “You’re in somebody else’s environment, and you have to be respectful, and there has to be a level of trust.”

Not surprisingly, locals often wander by during performances and have at times been puzzled, or even worried, by some of Duckler’s work. Some have even been concerned about the safety of the dancers. “Oh my God, they could fall off that roof,” Duckler said, miming the reactions of some bystanders, “but they never do. It’s very carefully planned, and safety is a key issue.”

Duckler recalled that the dance company was commissioned to do a piece in a downtown hotel right after 9/11. At first, hotel security staff members were very jumpy, but later they settled in and learned to appreciate the dancers. “We make friends as we go,” Duckler said. “One of the challenges for us is always to maintain those connections.”

Though Duckler has gained increasing access to sites where she’s wanted to choreograph — usually by being invited by cities or various arts groups that arrange for the use of sites — there’s still one white whale that eludes her: “As a lover of L.A. and a longtime resident, I would love to choreograph a piece that was seen via the freeway,” she said, laughing. “My most favorite site is near the Silver Lake exit off the 101,” she said. Despite the obvious hurdles of staging a performance where it might snarl traffic or cause accidents among rubbernecking motorists, a choreographer can always dream.

After the Boyle Heights performance, Duckler said she would love to hit the road. The company recently bought an old Oasis trailer, “a canned ham,” as Duckler describes it, and it plans to take it on tour. “The trailer is sort of like a tool box, or a treasure chest, that can be explored by other people,” Duckler said. She’s already working on choreographing a piece that takes place in and around the trailer.

“We’re taking it for a test drive,” said Duckler, who’s set her sights on the horizon, never content to choreograph in one location for too long. “We can travel California and see where it leads!”

Peace House expulsions show need for sensitivity


I understand there are rabbis who used their pulpits on Shabbat to criticize the brave Jewish heroes whom the government forcefully expelled from their homes in Hebron just a few days ago.

Hundreds of other brave Jews were with them in support of their right to stay at the home that was legally bought for them by Morris Abraham, a Syrian Jew living in New York. Abraham spent close to a million dollars purchasing this home from a local Arab, and the deal was legally consummated some 24 months ago. It was his wish that these families live there, and this wish was legally carried out.

Those of us who have had the privilege to visit these folks at the now-famous Peace House in Hebron know that it is a stone’s throw from the tomb of our forefathers and foremothers, where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were buried with their wives. This is Judaism’s second holiest site, being that Jacob is the Jewish forefather and as his 12 sons became the 12 tribes of Israel.

There has been a Jewish community in the area for thousands of years. Hebron was the first capital of the Jewish people under the reign of King David. Today, there is a community of about 8,000 Jews living in Kiryat Arba (City of Four). A 10-minute walk will take you to the old city of Hebron, right by the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, where 800 Jewish men, women and children live in an enclave protected by the brave soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces. For those who have not been to Hebron, it is about a 30-minute drive from the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

Four weeks from now, the Torah portion will be Vayechi. One cannot read this beautiful narrative about Jacob imploring his son to bury him in the Land of Israel and not be moved.

More importantly, this is probably the single act in the whole Bible responsible for planting the seed that has so stubbornly grown into the tree we refer to as the Jewish people. It is my belief that it is this act that has brought back the Jewish people to their homeland after 2,000 years of exile, pogroms and the Holocaust. Because of Jacob’s insistence to be brought back to Israel, the Jewish generations after him always felt an inexplicable yearning to come back home, if for nothing else, just to pay their respects to him and their forefathers and foremothers.

I came to learn this through my own personal story. My own father (z”l’) on his deathbed made me and my family promise him that we would bury him in Israel. This was a longing that he had and throughout his horrific battle with cancer, which lasted 18 months, he would insist that we make him this promise. It was the last few words he uttered as we were weeping by his bedside that early evening in February 1988.

For years after we buried him in Israel — and having no real prior connection to my Jewish roots or tradition or, for that matter, the State of Israel — I still kept coming back every year for his memorial. There were times when frankly I had no idea what I was doing there or why he made this request and asked myself whether all the trouble that it took to get there was even necessary — to arrange for a memorial lunch or dinner, to find people to say the Kaddish by his gravesite, etc.

Was it all necessary or was I simply being a little nutty? After all, I had never been there with him while he was alive. Nevertheless, I kept coming back year after year, first as a bachelor and then later as a husband and now as a father.

One Shabbat, many years after that very first trip, I was sitting in our little synagogue in Beverly Hills and my rabbi gave a most beautiful lesson on the chapter Vayechi. He brought my attention to this beautiful narrative, and all of a sudden, everything became clear to me, and tears started rolling down my eyes.

For the first time, I understood my late father’s request. For the first time, I realized how much of an impact those trips to Israel had not only over my life but over all of my family’s lives.

I cannot tell you enough about all the profound experiences I had during these yearly trips. I cannot even begin to think of my life today without these visits. My whole family has found a purpose bigger than ourselves because of the experiences that we were blessed to have in Israel. We have grown to love the people and the land.

On one such visit last year, an old friend took me and a few of my friends from Los Angeles to the Beit Shalom (the Peace House). We met the families who lived there and spoke to their leader, a woman who had moved to Israel from England.

She had been living in Israel for many years, and when the house was bought, she decided to move to it with her husband and many children. My friends and I asked her many questions to try and understand how she could be as brave as she was to live there.

She was a very sensible and a well-educated woman in her 30s, very articulate. She explained that if it was not safe for her to live in her home in Hebron because of the dangers facing her, then it was just as unsafe for anyone to live in Israel because of the dangers facing it.

She made a compelling argument that Jews should have a moral and ethical right to live anywhere in Israel and for that matter, anywhere in the world without being persecuted. And her Peace House was the last stand, so to speak, to bring this point home.

The idea that an area — Hebron, Gaza, West Bank, whatever one might call it — must be devoid of any Jews living in it should be antithetical to modern-day Jewish thinking, she said. After all, this is what Hitler tried to achieve with his Judenrein concept — cleansing Europe and the world of all its Jews.

Last week, this woman and the other families living with her in the Peace House were dragged out by the Israeli government. Ironically, contrary to conventional knowledge, the courts did not order the evacuation of the House of Peace. They left it in the hands of the government to decide what to do until the legalities of the case were fully determined. Sadly, the Ehud Olmert government chose the most divisive and provocative option.

While these Jews were being expelled, Israel continues to have its southern cities bombed with rockets since the expulsion of the Jews of Gush Katif; Iran persists on its nuclear agenda, and Hezbollah and Hamas continue to arm themselves to the teeth. Episodes like the Peace House expulsion are an unfortunate distraction from the real issues and threats that Israel faces.

It is true that some of the actions of a few hot-headed Jews have crossed the line, and while I might understand their frustrations and pain, I do not condone those actions. But the acts of a handful of hotheads should not poison all 300,000 Jews living in Judea and Samaria who stand on the front lines with great sacrifice, and they should not obscure this fact: Just like Arabs have the right to live in Israel among a Jewish majority, Jews should have the right to live in any area they please, even if those areas have an Arab majority.

It is not my intention to offend anyone who does not share this perspective. We all know how diverse Jewish opinion can be, and this diversity is one of our strengths. My intention here is to implore all of us to show a little sensitivity and balance before making loud and sweeping condemnations of our fellow Jews.

Ultimately, if we can succeed in being sensitive toward each other, maybe it will lead to us understanding each other a little better — hence finding our commonalities on our own, rather than having them forced on us by other people with evil agendas.

This was our fate for 2,000 years before the creation of the State of Israel. It must not be allowed to remain our fate moving forward.

Sunny Sassoon is a businessman who lives with his family in Los Angeles.

Post-Gaza: A Time for Israelis to Reunite


The disengagement or expulsion has ended. But is this also the end of religious Zionism? Are there lessons we can and must learn that may enable us to emerge stronger from this most difficult period?

The first lesson we learned is that we are indeed one nation. There was no real violence, and there was even majestic fortitude and an exaltation of spirit displayed by many Gush Katif settlers and leaders.

On the other side of the barricades, only a small number of soldiers refused to carry out military evacuation orders, despite the charge to do so from major rabbinic voices; the soldiers and police behaved with incredible sensitivity and restraint.

It was heart wrenching but uplifting, a period in which I was both tear-filled and pride-filled to be an Israeli Jew.

Is this the end of religious Zionism? Only if the definition of religious Zionism is greater Israel, and only if “we want the Messiah now” has become not merely a future wish but the description of our present historical reality.

Remember that Maimonides developed a position of “normative messianism,” teaching “no one ought imagine that the normal course of events will be transformed during the messianic era, or that there will be a change in the order of creation; the world will continue in its normal course….”

From this perspective, no one had the right to declare, for example, that God would never allow Gush Katif to be dismantled, as some religious leaders did. Or that if we all prayed together at the Western Wall, our prayers would have to be answered. The only guarantees the Torah gives is that the Jewish people will never be completely destroyed, and that there will eventually be world peace emanating from Jerusalem.

As far as everything else is concerned, pray and work to achieve the best, but prepare for and be ready to accept the worst. The Talmud teaches “even when a sword dangles at your throat, you must not despair of Divine mercy.” But, our sages declare, “It is forbidden to rely on miracles.”

Achieving the best means living a life of dialogue and engagement with our secular brothers and sisters.

It also may mean returning to the understanding of religious Zionism that predominated until the immediate aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. This Zionism was based on compromise regarding land, on our acceptance of a partition plan, which required our withdrawal from Sinai in 1956.

We held the modest belief that our era was merely “the beginning of the sprouting of our redemption,” which would be a lengthy process fraught with advances and regressions, achievements and setbacks. It was this attitude of compromise that prevented us from a no-exit collision course with Palestinian fundamentalists screaming “not one grain of sand” on one side and our nationalists insisting “not one inch” on the other.

This spirit of compromise has fostered our constant presence in the government, even at times in rabidly secular governments, as an expression of our willingness to continue dialogue, even when we may vehemently disagree about issues of state. Only such a spirit of compromise will enable us to live together in a democratic state, and prevent our self-destruction in a fire of internal enmity, which destroyed the Second Commonwealth, even before the Romans touched the holy Temple.

It was after the agonizingly belated victory in the Yom Kippur War that car stickers began advertising “Israel has confidence in God.” At that point, a significant portion of religious Israel began to feel that the Messianic Age had already arrived, that greater Israel was an unstoppable phenomenon and that we must build settlements throughout Judea, Samaria and Gaza. It was as though the Almighty entered into a covenant with our generation: We were to build the settlements, and God would guarantee their permanence.

And so we did. But in the process, we left the rest of the nation behind. Most of our settlements had screening committees — mainly religious conditions. During the last three decades, more and more national religionists have chosen to live in separatist communities apart from their secular siblings. Two nations were beginning to emerge — two nations that rarely interacted.

We also created magnificent schools, from day care centers for 6-month-olds to different strokes for different folks-type yeshiva high schools — running the gamut from Talmud intensive to music and art intensive. But these schools were all religious and inward reflecting in orientation. We did not take seriously many social problems plaguing Israeli society: forced prostitution, exorbitant bank interest rates, corruption in the highest places and the ever-climbing poverty graph. And although we were deeply involved in our own education, we seemed totally disinterested in secular educational institutions.

This disconnect was not all of our own making. Even though some of our founding fathers enjoyed bacon and eggs for breakfast, they were a far cry from Yossi Beilin, who wrote that his grandfather made a mistake for preferring Israel to Uganda in the Zionist Congress. And there’s Shimon Peres, who would have us join the Arab League and treat Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Couples as unimportant pieces of real estate.

No wonder we have drifted so far apart.

The main lessons of this disengagement must be our return to normative messianism, and the critical necessity of establishing a common language between the religious and secular based on Jewish culture — for the entire populace. One that must permeate our music, art and theater; our matnasim (Jewish centers) and our schools; our TV and radio.

And there must be more mixed neighborhoods and opportunities for interpersonal dialogue. We must resurrect the initial flag of religious Zionism, our tripod ideals of land, Torah culture and people. We must never again forget the majority of our people in our enthusiasm for land and Torah.

By so doing, we will learn to respect each other. And we may even create the kind of shared culture and values that will transform our state from a mini-New York to a light unto the nations, from a mirror of a decadent Western society to a model for a world of peace and mutual respect.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chief rabbi of the settlement of Efrat in Gush Etzion, Israel, and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone, an educational network serving students from all religious backgrounds. He will be the scholar-in-residence at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills the Shabbat of Sept. 10. For more information, call (310) 278-1911.

 

The Graves Of Sudan


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With Thanksgiving here and Chanukah just around the corner, most of us are reflecting on all there is to be thankful for, embracing our freedom as Jews and Americans. As we share our thanks this year and celebrate the holidays, it is my hope that more American Jews will think of those who are denied what we have come to expect as basic human rights, particularly those who are suffering from genocidal campaigns in Darfur, Sudan.

In this remote region, more than 1.5 million African tribal farmers have been violently driven from their homes by the government of Sudan and the militias they armed, called Janjaweed (evil men on horseback). Despite repeated calls from humanitarian organizations and U.N. agencies warning of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today, there continues to be a systematic program of expulsion, rape and murderous violence that has taken at least 100,000 lives.

As Jews, we have an increased moral obligation to respond, to speak out and take action against ethnic cleansing. The epithet “never again” must not be reserved for Jews alone, but in fact, Jews must be the guardians of this call for action, highly sensitive and responsive to all attempts by any people to annihilate another people.

I went to Darfur in August to bear witness, to assess humanitarian needs and to ensure that funds provided by the American Jewish community are being and will be used effectively. I met many of the displaced farmers and listened to their chilling stories.

The government bombed their villages; men on horses rode in, often yelling ethnic slurs and shooting wildly. They stole; they raped; they killed. They stuffed wells with dead bodies or carcasses and burned villages to the ground.

I met Fatima; her five children were all ill with life-threatening diarrhea. I met a 10-year-old boy — clinging to the leg of a medical assistant — who saw his parents and two brothers shot dead.

I met the mother of twins who gave birth the day the militia came to her village. She saw her brother, aunt and uncle killed but managed to escape with her family, her newborn babies tucked into a straw mat.

They and over a million others fled in terror and came gradually to camps being set up to receive them — now about 158 camps scattered throughout Darfur (a region the size of California) containing tens of thousands of families packed into tent cities, fighting hunger, illness, displacement, boredom and depression. People whose simple agricultural life had allowed them to remain self-sufficient, now have no means of support.

Currently, the situation is deteriorating. The populations coming into the camps keep growing, and there is not enough food. There are too many cases of dehydration, malnutrition and deadly diarrhea.

Living in close quarters like this breeds its own set of sanitation, physical and mental health problems. Mortality rates — already at about 10,000 a month — could rise suddenly.

Some of the Janjaweed have been outfitted by the government as “police” to provide “security” for the camps. Women still disappear or are raped when they venture out to collect firewood to use for cooking or to sell to buy food.

The U.S. Congress labeled the crisis genocide in July, and the Bush administration followed suit in September, but members of the U.N. Security Council, particularly Russia, China and Algeria, continue to block sanctions and other strong actions, creating deadlines and weak resolutions that are unenforceable and unheeded. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan reported that security is declining and violence is on the upsurge.

In a reversal that demonstrates that international pressure can make a difference, the Sudanese government reluctantly agreed to allow 3,000 African Union troops to monitor the tenuous cease-fire and escort aid convoys, but they have no mandate to protect civilians. The Sudanese army and police continue to attack camps and forcibly relocate internally displaced people.

Recent reports describe government forces burning shelters, smashing water pipes, beating and shooting people and refusing access to aid agencies. On Nov. 8, the Sudanese government signed a historical peace agreement, accepting a no-fly zone over the region and promising to disarm the Janjaweed and improve access to aid. The next day, more violence was reported in camps.

The United Nations is conducting an investigation to determine whether the crisis constitutes genocide. This marks the first time in the history of the Security Council that Article 8 of the Genocide Convention has been invoked, which is a most welcome occurrence, but it is not enough by itself. By the time the assessment is complete, at least another 30,000 people will be dead.

Confronted with the realities of a grim future, we must increase pressure on the U.S. government and international community to persuade the Security Council to do what must be done to end the violence and suffering. Sudan must be forced to improve access to the camps for humanitarian aid workers and supplies, and it must be sanctioned until the Janjaweed is disarmed and the region is secured.

The African Union troops must be given an expanded mandate under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter to protect civilians. Should the no-fly zone over Darfur be violated, enforcement by NATO forces must be authorized.

Additional humanitarian aid is desperately needed. Governments must do their part to ensure that the U.N. humanitarian programs are functioning at full capacity and meeting the vast needs. Support from individuals to nongovernmental organizations providing humanitarian assistance is also essential.

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) launched a Sudan Emergency Appeal in April to help meet these needs. To date, $500,000 has been raised to rehabilitate water sources, construct sanitation facilities and provide therapeutic feeding centers to care for the thousands of malnourished children. I surveyed these programs when I was there and left overwhelmingly satisfied that lives are being saved.

As a result of my assessment, AJWS is also providing educational and recreational materials and programs for orphaned children, zinc treatment for children suffering from diarrhea and because rape is being used as a strategic weapon against women and their families, we are providing reproductive health care and addressing the consequences of sexual violence against women. Financial support for these ongoing efforts is critical.

The Jewish response is growing. The Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, comprised of 45 national Jewish organizations, created a Jewish Coalition for Sudan Relief that has raised about $170,000, and the Reform movement has spearheaded its own campaign, raising about $120,000. A number of Jewish organizations have joined us as members of the Save Darfur Coalition, a broadly diverse group of more than 100 faith-based and humanitarian organizations advocating for the people of Darfur, and other Jewish organizations are responding with humanitarian aid.

Until conditions are established that permit the voluntary, safe and dignified return of those displaced by the conflict and violators of human rights are held accountable, our diligence must not wane.

Leviticus teaches, “Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” This holiday season, let us celebrate with our loved ones, but let us also resolve to do all that we can to end human suffering and prevent genocide whenever, wherever and to whomever it occurs.

Ruth W. Messinger is the president and executive director of American Jewish World Service, an international development and emergency relief organization. For more information, to make a donation or take action, visit

Jews Mend Kosovo’s Spirit


Having endured 10 years of oppression and the largest expulsion in Europe since the Holocaust, it is not uncommon to hear the Albanians of Kosovo draw parallels between themselves and Jews.

So it was little surprise to Greta Kacinari that Jews would be among those lending a hand in Kosovo, the war-torn southern province of Yugoslavia.

Despite the near absence of Jews in Kosovo, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has rebuilt many of its schools.

“I know a lot of Jews, and I know they have helped each other in times of need,” said Kacinari, principal of Elena Gjika Primary School. “But the really amazing thing to me is there’s also something in their blood for them to help people who are in a similar situation as Jews were in during their history.”

Kacinari’s is one of 14 primary schools in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. All of them here and in the countryside have suffered years of neglect and vandalism, and later, war. Meanwhile, as the Balkans have convulsed with one crisis after another this decade, Jewish groups have not only assisted the small Jewish communities in the region, but they have emerged as key supporters of the overall relief effort.

Leading the way is the JDC. It pitched in $1.25 million for the Albanian refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania earlier this year. Then, when it expressed an interest in Kosovo’s primary schools late this summer, UNICEF asked it to help rebuild the infrastructure of all 14 in Pristina. The JDC also selected a school in the southern city of Prizren, home to a tiny Jewish community of 40.

Since its arrival in Kosovo in August, a small, dedicated team of Israelis has spent $1.1 million of JDC funds to replace broken glass, doors and toilets, among other projects.

“When you say it 10 times — ‘We’re here to help the people because we care’ — it loses its strength,” says Israeli Nir Baron, JDC’s administrator in Kosovo. “But that is why I’m here, and to make sure everything gets to the right people.”

There are certainly plenty of needy recipients. Since 1989, Kosovo and its 90-percent ethnic Albanian population lived within an apartheid-like system ruled by the Serbian minority. Albanians were kicked out of universities, high schools and most primary schools. In response, the Albanian community created a parallel school system, operated mostly out of private homes.

In schools like Kacinari’s, the Albanians were allowed to remain. But anywhere from 750 to 900 schoolchildren were forced into half a wing. As there were only nine classrooms, teachers and students came to school in three shifts, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Meanwhile, the 350 Serb students had access to 25 rooms, the gymnasium and luxury items such as microscopes.

When the Serb teachers and students left school at 2 p.m., the heat was shut off. The Albanians continued into the night in the cold, Kacinari says.

“I don’t wish for anyone in the world to live through the conditions we lived through for 10 years,” says Kacinari in fluent English.

Repression against the province’s 1.8 million Albanians grew progressively worse, leading to NATO’s intervention this spring. Three months of U.S.-led airstrikes finally forced the Serbs to end the repression, but forced relocation — known by the euphemism “ethnic cleansing” — resulted in an estimated 1 million ethnic Albanian refugees, 5,000 to 10,000 killed and tens of thousands of homes, businesses and schools burned.

As Serb forces withdrew, much of the Serb community went with them. In their wake, they trashed the schools.

So the JDC’s top priority was glass, to keep out the cold. Some 20,000 feet worth was bought for the 14 schools in Pristina alone. Workers installed it in one week. Next came replacement of doors and locks, many of which were said to have been kicked in and intentionally destroyed by Serbs.

As Baron tells it, the Kosovars are growing wary of well-meaning relief workers who promise but don’t deliver.

“That’s why we only promise what we can deliver,” he says. Baron notes the challenge for humanitarian groups is to judge where the greatest needs are. By virtue of having larger populations, the cities tend to draw most of the attention.

Some needs, such as physical reconstruction, are obvious. Other ideas came to the JDC only after it further familiarized itself with the communities. The organization recently gave away 15,000 pairs of shoes in Kosovo — mostly to orphaned children — and 3,500 backpacks for students.

The JDC and ORT have also donated 45 computers: 15 in Pristina, 15 in Prizren, and 15 in Skopje, Macedonia. The JDC has also hit on an idea for back-to-work vocational training for Albanians, to train them how to make tables and chairs for the schools. Then there’s the shortage of dental technicians: The JDC may bring some in, says Baron.

Finally, the JDC has allocated some discretionary funds for school officials to determine their own needs. Kacinari, for example, used the cash to buy items such as chalk, pens, notebooks, a screwdriver and light bulbs.

“We Jews know about occupation and foreign authority,” says the 32-year-old. “If I’d been liberated, even if someone wanted to help me I’d still want to defend my pride. Like, ‘I’ll tell you my needs and you can help me if you want.’ Just because someone gives you money doesn’t mean that they should own your soul.”

The JDC did in fact make one condition for its aid: that Albanian school officials not discriminate against Serb and other minority children. Kacinari boasts that in her school, there are 200-plus ethnic Turkish children, learning in their mother tongue.

Says Baron, “We told them we will not collaborate. If a Serb or Gypsy child wants to come to school, to us they are all just children.”

But he added, “These people are hurt and the feeling of revenge in the streets is very strong. I don’t know if you can blame them. To put hate aside is very difficult, as anyone from Israel knows.”

But Baron himself has found there is something contagious about bringing relief in a crisis.

“This work here has immediate rewards,” he said. “If you give a kid shoes or a school bag, it’s good for the soul.”


Kosovo’s Jews Battle for Survival

“Ah, the ironies of life,” says Votim Demiri. His mother escaped from the train that carried her family to death at Bergen-Belsen. Later, she became renowned for fighting with the Yugoslav partisans against the Nazis.

Fast forward to this spring.

A Serb offensive in Kosovo forced Demiri, the president of Prizren’s Jews, and close to 1 million Albanian refugees to flee their homes. Demiri, his wife and three children returned and hid until three months of NATO airstrikes persuaded Serb forces to withdraw.

So, today in Prizren, whose troops are keeping the peace? The Germans.

“I wonder what my mother would say if she were here to see it,” says Demiri, 52. Her mother died in 1994.

The Prizren Jews are battling for survival. Kosovo, legally still a part of Yugoslavia, is wracked with violent crime, and saddled with 70 percent unemployment.

One Jewish family of four has already emigrated to Israel, aided by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and a second family is seriously considering it, Demiri says.

Prizren, a city of roughly 150,000, is a historic trade center in the Balkans. Jews are said to have lived here for centuries. There is no synagogue in town, though a Star of David adorns the minaret of one of the town’s old stone mosques. “I have no idea where it comes from,” concedes Demiri.

However, deep roots may not be enough to keep the Prizren Jews here. They also need jobs.

Today, the community is basically comprised of two large, extended families. Mixed marriages are common: Demiri’s father, for example, is Albanian, and his wife is “something between Albanian and Turkish.”

Yet Demiri’s Jewish identity is sufficiently strong enough that his 22-year-old son would like to visit Israel to learn Hebrew. And concern for the welfare of others during the crisis has bound the community even more tightly tog
ether.

Most Jews and their Albanian neighbors today eke out a living, accepting food staples like flour and cooking oil from humanitarian groups.

Actually, admits Demiri, his family is getting along fine: He’s been reinstated as the director of a local textile factory, a job he lost when Milosevic and his lieutenants purged all “Albanians” from leadership positions in 1989 and 90. What his people need, Demiri says, are not handouts, but machines to start up small businesses.

“We don’t want to live from humanitarian aid forever; people in Kosovo know how to work hard to make a living,” he says. “But I want to make it clear: We’ll need plenty of time.” –Michael J. Jordan, JTA