Marking Tisha b’Av during a long, hot summer


As the fast day of Tisha b’Av approaches, the summer heat and humidity is rising.

That got me thinking: Does the solemn day have the stuff to raise our consciousness as well?

Tisha b’Av — this year it begins on the evening of Saturday, August 13 — marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples, as well as other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. Traditionally, it’s a time to remember and mourn those events, and that Jews have been a historically oppressed people.

But this summer — perhaps more than any other in recent memory — I wondered if there was room to remember the struggles of others on this mournful occasion. On this sad day — when we are not supposed to eat, drink or have sex — it’s hard to ignore those in our own time who are experiencing tragedies as a people, or whose lives are being destroyed, some more than others.

Tisha b’Av is a day to reflect on the lasting damage of violence — both of police officers slain and the too many black men who have fallen victim to police violence. Do we pass over them on this day, and focus solely on our own grief? Or do we take a more universal view of Tisha b’Av, and use the day when we are already grieving to find a way to respond to the tragedies around us?

The day’s liturgy pushes us toward our own present-day cities and communities. The Book of Eicha, or Lamentations, which is traditionally read on this day, calls to us from across the millennia, shifting our attention to the now. When he hear the opening line about Jerusalem — “Alas! Lonely sits the city” — we could just as easily be talking about Dallas, or Baton Rouge. The next verse, “Bitterly she weeps in the night,” reminds us of the tears shed over the shootings of black, unarmed men.

Some have already heard that call. At an evening vigil in New York last month, organized by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice — a group which says it is “inspired by Jewish tradition to fight for a sustainable world with an equitable distribution of economic and cultural resources and political power” —  Shoshana Brown, a Jew of color and a JFREJ leader said, “As we enter the weeks leading to Tisha b’Av, this is a sacred time for Jews to take a stand against atrocities happening right now, as we also remember those that have happened to us in the past.”

To me, Brown is suggesting Tisha b’Av can be a remembrance that recalls both the ancient as well as the “right now.” But what would that look like?

There is a tradition, after he final meal and before the Tisha v’Av fast begins, of partaking in a Seudah HaMafseket, a spare “separating meal” consisting of water and a hardboiled egg and bread dipped in ashes, which is eaten in solitude, creating a space for contemplation.

Why these foods? The humble egg reminds us of how hard life can become — and I think, how hardened we, too, can get to the conditions and injustices that surround us, to the point where we live in a shell. (Do we really understand just how dangerous it is for law enforcement to go out on the streets in our armed society? In a world where eyes have been culturally trained to surveil any person of color, do we really understand what it’s like to be constantly under suspicion?)

Tasting the bitter ash, itself a product of destruction, allows us to consider the consequences of living a life based solely on Hillel’s maxim, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” that then ignores the remainder of the famous phrase,“But if I am only for myself, who am I?” and “If not now, when?”

Fasting on Tisha b’Av, too, takes us out of our comfort zone, allowing us to clear more than our stomachs. Traditionally, we fast to mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples, and the conditions of baseless hatred which led up to those terrible acts. But on this very long day of going without food or water, waiting for the sun to set, who does not have the time to reflect upon the baseless hatreds, both racial and ethnic, that roil our own times, in our own cities? At a moment when I am contemplating the loss of the Temple, will an image form as well of police battling protestors of recent shootings ?

Fortunately, however, Tisha b’Av isn’t just about sitting around and being sad. It’s also traditional to give tzedakah and spread a little hope. On this day of remembering tragedy, we can also use our funds to respond to crises in our midst.

Tisha b’Av and our history teach us to recover from destruction, to mend the broken. For example, after the killing of five police officers in Dallas, Texas, Congregation Ohev Shalom there raised over $2,000 to help one of the families of the officers slain. JFREJ has worked for police accountability and reform.

In Eicha, too, hope can be found. Though our national text of pain is filled with death, anger and “harsh oppression,” by its end, we see that our days can be renewed “as of old!”

But that doesn’t happen automatically. Eicha says we can “search and examine our ways” — meaning, with some introspection combined with some action, we can all return to the guiding Jewish principle to love and respect our neighbors as ourselves.

VIDEO: History will be made in Beijing


Director Oren Kaplan (Miriam & Shoshana hardcore gangstas) offers this 60-second ‘commercial’ for the 2008 Beijing Olympics

VIDEO: Tel Aviv rally protests religious persecution in China


Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy lead rally protesting Chinese persecution of Falun Gong and China’s involvement in Sudan

Organize now against oppression in Burma


We never hear much about Burma, officially known today as Myanmar, until it’s too late. Take, for example, last fall. Crimson-robed monks marched peacefully in the streets of Rangoon, making the case for democratic reforms and human rights.

The monks’ nonviolent approach and well-argued appeals were met by beatings, imprisonment and even death — not all that surprising from a country whose military dictatorship has ruled with an iron fist. Burma — a country roughly the size of Texas and with a population of some 50 million people — manages to put some of the better-known human rights violators to shame.

But when those powerful images dropped off the front pages of newspapers and news sites, they also seemed to drop from our consciousness.

That is unconscionable. Under the current junta, the regime has perpetrated a coordinated program of ethnic cleansing that relies on rape as a weapon of terror, while destroying more than 3,200 villages (displacing far more than 1 million people) and conscripting more than 70,000 child soldiers (putting it literally at the top of the list for any country).

In the meantime, Aung San Suu Kyi, the rightfully elected leader of Burma, whose party won 82 percent of the seats in Parliament, has spent roughly 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest. Rather than transforming her nation through her vision and a commitment to nonviolent change, she has been unjustly imprisoned.

So why am I writing this now, when the world’s attention is on issues like the tragedy unfolding in Darfur or the fight for political independence in Tibet? The simple answer is that as important as those two issues are — and they both are of the utmost importance and are deserving of a great deal of our support and attention — there is something so simple about the issues in Burma.

Among other things, there is fact that the Suu Kyi has the distinction of being the only Nobel Peace Prize recipient who was prevented from ever accepting her prize. She earned another honor on April 24, when she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award given by the U.S. Congress.

What can we do? About a month ago, my friend Jack Healey, a former Franciscan priest, told me about his idea to create a new kind of celebrity-based public service announcement to take the case for Burma to the public. Healey is no beginner when it comes to mobilizing big names. I met him nearly 20 years ago when he was executive director of Amnesty International in the United States. At the time, he had pulled together some of the biggest artists of the decade — Bruce Springsteen, U2, The Police, Peter Gabriel — to embark on a world tour intended to raise the issue of human rights and to put Amnesty International in the public consciousness.

Healey and Jeremy Woodrum, who runs the U.S. Campaign for Burma, have devoted their lives to fighting for the people of Burma, trying to rescue the country from the overbearing grip of a military junta and a violent dictator.

I volunteered to help. In the last month, we’ve managed to put together a campaign of 30 television and Internet spots, shot by and starring some of Hollywood’s biggest names, with the hope that their messages will reach not only millions of Americans but also the rank-and-file soldiers in Burma, who may not even realize how closely the world is looking at the atrocities many of them are carrying out on everyday citizens and, especially, monks.

Our campaign relies on internationally recognized athletes, actors, directors, writers and musicians to address what is happening today in Burma. We are running the spots on our Web site (www.fanista.com), as well as a host of other online distribution sites, trying to drive a million people to sign a virtual petition at www.burmaitcantwait.org.

We have just finished marking Passover, a holiday that demands of us to both celebrate our freedom and fight for the oppressed. It is incumbent on all of us who live in this great country, who have been blessed with the freedoms of democracy, religious tolerance and equal rights for all, to do anything we can to ensure that others — be they within our own communities or on the other side of the world — enjoy those same freedoms.

We are, as I heard Rabbi Elazar Muskin say over Pesach, a “people of hope.” That sense of hope not only allows us to dream of a better and more just world but also obligates us to do what we can to make those conditions a reality. May all of our efforts help achieve those goals for Suu Kyi and the people of Burma and for all oppressed people, wherever they may be.

Dan Adler is the Founder and CEO of “>Human Rights Action Center and the

We should speak out for HR 106


Notably absent from the disagreement over whether Jewish organizations should support HR 106, the congressional resolution recognizing the genocide of almost 2 million Armenians in the early 20th century, is any debate about the truthfulness of the resolution. Virtually every historian acknowledges that this genocide is an irrefutable fact. Instead, the controversy swirls around the question of whether it is in the interest of the Jewish community to take a position that might provoke anti-Semitism in Turkey or harm Turkish-Israeli relations.

HR 106 already has 227 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and is supported by a majority of Jewish senators and congressmen across the nation, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Jane Harman (D-Venice). Most of the Jewish organizational establishment, however, is either waffling or desperately trying to avoid the issue. The facts are embarrassing.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, initially declined to take a position on whether the Armenian genocide occurred. When the ADL’s executive director in Boston publicly criticized the refusal to acknowledge the Armenian genocide and called it “morally indefensible,” Foxman fired him. Shortly thereafter, two ADL board members resigned in protest.

As a result of the ensuing criticism, Foxman modified his position to acknowledge that “there was an Armenian genocide,” but continued to refuse to support the congressional resolution that “there was an Armenian genocide.”

His rationale was that the congressional resolution is a “counterproductive diversion” that would offend Turkey’s government and people, which could lead to violence against Turkish Jews and damage to Turkish-Israeli relations.

The ADL is not the only Jewish organization that has vacillated or is paralyzed by fear of exacerbating anti-Semitism. The reason these organizations have chosen to remain silent has nothing to do with the merits of the congressional resolution. It has everything to do with their being intimidated by anti-Semites, in this case Muslim extremists.

It is a tragic truth of Jewish history that there is nothing unusual about the inclination of Jewish leaders toward such appeasement. In the years leading up to and during World War II, the Jewish establishment – led by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise – refused to protest the Roosevelt administration’s failure to take action to rescue the Jews of Europe.

They castigated and marginalized as extremists Jewish activists, such as Peter Bergson and Ben Hecht, who publicly demanded that the government take action to stop the ongoing Holocaust. The Jewish establishment was fearful that it would make things worse to antagonize the Nazi leadership and to embarrass the American government by publicizing the terrible events unfolding in Europe.

In the 1970s, when the oppression of Soviet Jewry became an issue of moment, the Jewish establishment again demonstrated its lack of nerve. Most Jewish leaders were fearful of participating in large public demonstrations and eschewed taking a position on the Jackson-Vanik legislation that was designed to punish the Soviets unless they relaxed their restrictions on Jewish emigration. The rationale was that aggressive action would inflame Soviet anti-Semitism. Once again the policy of timidity was proven to be wrongheaded.

More recently, Jewish, Israeli and American leaders opposed implementing federal law requiring that the U.S. Embassy in Israel be moved to Jerusalem because of fear of provoking Arab terrorism. Despite this capitulation to Muslim pressure, both Israel and the West have experienced a dramatic increase in terrorism.

If a Christian leader were to refuse to acknowledge the Holocaust out of fear of antagonizing Germany, Jews everywhere would justifiably be outraged. We would reject as unacceptable the excuse that “the Holocaust is only a Jewish issue.”

The failure of the Jewish establishment to support congressional recognition of the Armenian genocide is similarly shameful. Given our history, the Jewish people should be in the forefront of speaking out against genocide.

Jewish leaders should refuse to be blackmailed by Muslim extremism. Turkish threats of retribution against Israel and Turkish Jews must be confronted and condemned.

History teaches that flinching in the face of anti-Semitism is cowardly, unprincipled, ineffective and dangerous. As Winston Churchill observed, “Those who appease the crocodile will simply be eaten last.”

Steven M. Goldberg, an attorney, is vice chairman of the board of the Zionist Organization of America, Southern California Region.

L.A.’s Jews, Koreans Work to Build Ties


 

Shema Educational Institute’s Web site shows photos of typical Orthodox Jews: a father studying with his sons, a frum mother holding her infant and a man unrolling a Torah scroll. But in that last photo, the Orthodox man is standing next to a Korean man in traditional Korean dress.

Koreatown’s Shema Educational Institute advocates Orthodox ideals as guideposts for Korean families. With its home page declaring, “Shema, O’ Israel!” amid otherwise Korean-only Web pages, the institute brings together Koreans and Jews in the historically barren plain of interethnic relations between the two groups in Los Angeles.

“Jews are very successful in passing on their history, from Abraham up until now,” said the Rev. Yong-Soo Hyun, Shema Institute creator.

Los Angeles’ Jews comprise America’s second-largest Jewish community, and the city’s Koreans are the largest Korean diaspora outside of Asia. Despite many cultural similarities, they know little of each of other.

“This is a community we need to understand and appreciate; I would like to see this more on our Jewish radar screen,” said Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis.

The Rev. Jim Bob-Park is the pastor of Young Nak Presbyterian Church, one of the Korean community’s largest, most influential congregations. He readily admits that Koreans and Jews don’t get together much socially or in any clergy-community relations settings.

“Actually, I haven’t had any interaction with the Jewish community,” Park said. “My seminary Hebrew language learning … was the last interaction I had with the Jewish community. That was about 15 years ago. I run into Jewish leaders here and there, not that I’m working with them or anything.”

Yet like many Korean Americans, Park talks admiringly of Jewish culture’s emphasis on family, education and professional careers, especially law, medicine and finance. And like Jewish immigrants in past decades, Korean Americans are trying to engage the growing divide between the older, more conservative first-generation immigrants who built Koreatown and the younger, more Americanized, more liberal second generation.

“Koreans are starting to learn from Jewish people,” said Paul Kim, 28, a program coordinator at the Korean American Coalition, the Korean communitity’s version of The Jewish Federation. “High emphasis on education, high emphasis on marrying one’s own and strong history of oppression. Koreans were very oppressed by Japanese and Chinese, because for thousands of years, Koreans were the chess piece, the pawn for all the surrounding countries.”

His description of his first days as an Occidental College freshman sounds like something that Jewish students might say about life on campus.

“Within five minutes, all the Koreans were hanging out together,” he said. “Instantaneously, when I see another Korean, I just bond with him.”

Kim oversaw a small Korean-Jewish “Talking Tolerance” gathering earlier this month. “The Second Generation: Preserving Our Culture,” sponsored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Project Next Step and funded by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles on Dec. 8, attracted a couple of dozen people, evenly split between Jews over 35 and Koreans under 30.

What the Jewish community looks like to insiders is certainly not the same as how it appears to outsiders.

“I feel that your community is much more unified,” said one young Korean American business executive, prompting several Jews to hold back their laughter among knowing glances. One of the evening’s organizers explained that not all Jewish organizations are exactly embracing each other.

Marrying outside one’s own culture remains as controversial among Koreans as it does among Jews. After dating Caucasian women, Kim said he will someday marry a Korean American.

“There’s so many ways we can relate to each other,” he said. “I used to always get upset at my parents because they’d say I have to marry a Korean, but I realized they’re just looking out for me.”

Both communities share an interest in a place outside the United States. For the Jews, it’s Israel, and for the Korean Americans, it’s human rights in North Korea. (Although Korean Americans are a large, theologically conservative presence in the Presbyterian Church (USA), they have not allied themselves with activists calling for divestment of Presbyterian funds from companies doing business with Israel.)

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of Project Next Step for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who led the “Talking Tolerance” discussion, often hosts Hyun’s Shema Institute students for Shabbat in his home. The rabbi said he is fascinated at how Korean American parents enroll in Hyun’s Orthodox-fueled family values seminars.

“They pay their own way and come to Los Angeles and study Judaism,” he said.

Koreans here were impressed with the Wiesenthal Center and its one-day, Sept. 13 conference on North Korea, which attracted many local Korean Americans and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

“That was almost a watershed experience for the Korean community,” Adlerstein said. “And we wound up as a facilitator of the different views of the Koreans.”

Also important, Adlerstein said, is how the Wiesenthal Center has been training Korean Americans opposing North Korea’s dictatorship, teaching them the tactics used by Jewish Americans who spent years speaking out for Soviet Jews.

“Something we had developed decades ago as a Jewish response to a Jewish problem,” he said, “was something that created a paradigm that we’re now able to share with people from an entirely different culture.”

 

Zionism, by George


In a key scene in “Masterpiece Theatre’s” “Daniel Deronda,”adapted from George Eliot’s 1876 novel, the hero attends a Zionist meeting.”Isn’t the way forward through assimilation?” asks Deronda (Hugh Dancy), anorphaned aristocrat unsure of his roots.

“When we pretend to be what we are not, we lose a bit of oursouls,” Mordecai, a Jewish mystic, replies. 

If the early Zionist movement seems an unlikely topic for aVictorian novel, Eliot (“Middlemarch,” “Silas Marner”) was an unlikelyVictorian novelist. “She raised eyebrows,” said “Deronda’s” Jewish producer,Louis Marks, who spearheaded the teledrama with screenwriter Andrew Davies.

Born Mary Ann Evans, Eliot began shocking people when sherejected Christianity at age 22, according to Marks.  She was further shunnedwhen she moved in with her married lover in 1854.  Although the unofficialeditor of the influential Westminster Review, she was never publiclyacknowledged because she was a woman.  In 1859, she began publishing a stringof acclaimed, socially conscious novels under the pseudonym George Eliot. 

Her final novel was “Deronda.”  “As an outsider, sheidentified with the Jewish experience of oppression,” Marks said.

“She was outraged and disgusted by the degree ofanti-Semitism that existed in English society,” Davies, Marks’ longtimecollaborator, said.

Eliot began writing “Deronda” after befriending theGerman-born scholar Emmanuel Deutsch, the prototype for the fictionalMordecai.  An official in the Jewish manuscripts department of the BritishMuseum, he taught Eliot Hebrew and about the then-nascent idea of Zionism. When he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the 1870s, he went off to die inJerusalem. “That inspired Eliot,” said Marks, whose daughter lives inBeersheva. “His return to his roots perhaps moved her to create Deronda, a manalso struggling to find his roots.”

The producer said the novel inspired early Zionist leaderssuch as Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and aristocrats who backed Britain’s BalfourDeclaration, the first political recognition of Zionism.  With war erupting inthe Middle East, he believes its message is equally relevant today:  “Manypeople are worried about Israel’s survival, and ‘Deronda’ makes people aware ofwhat is at stake,” he said.

The two-part drama airs March 30 and 31 on KCET.

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