Illyria at Twenty Years: An Albanian-American Celebration
Rabbi Noam Marans, Director, Interreligious and Intergroup Relations
May 22, 2011
It is an honor for AJC to represent the Jewish community at this celebration and to share in the wonderful experience of Albanian joy. As we Jews like to say at a celebration, mazal tov, congratulations! Mazal tov to Illyria on its 20th anniversary as the voice of Albanian Americans, and to all Albanian Americans who cherish this 20th anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Albania and the United States, a sign of a new global era.
Albanians and Jews share a history of mutual challenges, support, successes and gratitude, which must be recognized and articulated on an occasion like this one.
The Jewish people will never forget and are forever grateful that Albanians protected and saved Jews during the dark days of World War II and the Holocaust. As six million Jews were systematically killed by the Nazis, Albania was a shining light, as it struggled to defend its small but historic Jewish population from the Nazi horrors. Jewish refugees from other countries successfully sought haven in Albania, as well. When the situation deteriorated in September 1943, Albanian civil servants provided Jews with fake identity papers to elude the German occupation. Later, the government of Albania refused to cooperate in submitting a list of Albanian Jews to the Germans. Thank you for all that Albanians did to save Jews during the Holocaust.
More recently, it was Illyria that played a critical role in keeping Albanian-Americans and others informed of the situation in the Balkans as the Soviet Union and its satellites began to crumble during the last decade of the 20th century. Consistent, clear reporting helped illustrate human rights injustices and the resources needed for refugees in the region. This was a dark period for Kosovo, but it was an opportunity for the Jewish people to extend a hand of help.
At that time, AJC’s Kosovo Campaign raised over $1 million to bring support and dignity to Kosovo’s refugees. We reached out to Muslims in flight, first as they fled Kosovo and then again upon their return home. In 1999, AJC leadership facilitated a mission to advocate on behalf of the victims of ethnic cleansing. The delegation also brought donated medical supplies to refugee sites in Macedonia. Following the end of the war, AJC funded the construction of a new school in Kosovo. We did this because it was the right thing to do. But we also couldn’t help but remember that Albanians had come to our aid during the Holocaust and this was an opportunity to repay the kindness.
Our two peoples know what it means to be part of the American fabric while maintaining the integrity of ethnic and religious traditions. This is a challenge that we face together and we hope that in the future, we are able to learn from and grow with one another. Thank you, Vehbi Bajrami and all of our Albanian-American friends for inviting the Jewish community to be a part of this celebration. Shalom, Peace.