Montenegro

The Jewish community in Montenegro is one of the youngest Jewish communities in the world, having been officially registered in July 2011. At the end of January 2012, the Jewish community and the Government signed the Act on Mutual Relations whereby Judaism was recognized as the fourth official religion of Montenegro.

Montenegro is a highly multi-confessional country and there is no public manifestation of anti-Semitism. Moreover, there is great respect for Jewish people and their contribution to world civilization.
The Jewish Community of Montenegro estimates that between 400 and 500 Jews live in Montenegro. The Community is vibrant and active in different fields, especially in organizing the annual “Mahar Conference”, a central meeting point for Jewish communities of the Balkan region. This conference aims to prevent the assimilation of Jews in the region and with the goal to establish cooperation between the region's Jewish communities.

The Jewish community in Montenegro is represented by the Jewish Community of Montenegro – the Montenegrin affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate

Jewish Community of Montenegro

Phone: +382 20 622930
Mobile: +382 69 560 878
e-mail: jevzajcg@gmail.com
website: www.jevzajcg.me

Executives: Jelena Djurovic and Djordje Raicevic

History

The first traces of Jewish presence in Montenegro date from ancient Duklja, the ruins of which are located close to the center of Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. Archaeologists have ascertained that the graves discovered in its necropolis had belonged to Jews.

By the 12th century, Jews living within the borders of present-day Montenegro in areas surrounding today’s towns of Pljevlja, Plav, Gusinj, Bijelo Polje, Berane and Ulcinj (then ruled by the Ottoman Empire) were generally well received. Most of the community were Sephardim, from Spain and Portugal (as well as Constantinople at the beginning of the 16th century), and were largely involved in salt trading. The early Montenegrin Jewish community was also hugely influential in the trade route linking the northern and southern ends of the lands ruled by the Ottomans.

At the beginning of the 17th century, Shabbtai Tzvi, who proclaimed himself messiah and had a great number of followers, lived, worked and most likely was buried in Ulcinj. In her work “Traces of Jews in the Bay of Kotor,” Lenka Blehova Celebic emphasizes the influence Jews had on the development of commerce in those regions, especially in organizing international commerce. Isaije Koen, a famous Portuguese doctor and poet of Jewish origin, better known as Flavio Eborenze Didako Piro, who wrote a book about his exile, was buried in Herceg Novi.

A number of conflicts in the region disrupted the Montenegrin Jewish community, notably with the Serbians waging war against the Ottomans for their independence in addition to the more overarching Napoleonic war(s). The aftermath of such fighting saw the emergence of an independent Serbia in 1830 and the return of a larger number of Jewish people in the area. However, the newly independent Serbian government was somewhat hostile to its Jewish citizens, as it prohibited Jews from certain professions.

Despite fluctuations of tolerance and persecution, the Jewish community in the area remained a constant presence, largely seen in Kotor, where a large Jewish community existed. They were mostly concentrated in Kotor, as it was the administrative center. It should be mentioned that Jews were also present in these regions earlier. The fact that one part of Kotor’s cemetery was reserved for Jewish inhumations testifies to the respect Jews in the Bay of Kotor have enjoyed.

The decades following World War II saw a continued fluctuation of attitudes towards the Jewish inhabitants of modern-day Montenegro. The breakup of Yugoslavia saw the Jewish communities of the region thrown into the violence. However, complete Montenegrin independence would not come to fruition until 2006. Today, Montenegrin Jews enjoy a sense of stability that has allowed the community to prosper and flourish.

The Years of the Holocaust

Following the invasion of Yugoslavia by Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria in April of 1941, Montenegro was occupied by Italy, which instituted racial laws but was a bit laxer in its treatment of Jews. On the eve of World War II, Jews from nearby regions took refuge in the mountainous area. Unfortunately, during the six months following Italy’s surrender to the Allies in September of 1943, German troops managed to find most of the remaining Jews in Montenegro. Most were taken to Nazi concentration camps in small groups, where they experienced the same fate as the rest of European Jewry. About 300 Jews who were hidden in the north and coastal towns of Montenegro escaped deportation and survived.  After World War II, many of the survivors returned to their former homes, and their descendants make up the bulk of the present-day Jewish community of Montenegro. 

Demography

Montenegro’s Jewish population is estimated at between 400 and 500 out of a total population of 620,000.

Community Life

The Jewish community in Montenegro is one of the youngest and smallest Jewish communities in the world, with around 100 active members. They celebrate all the holidays, but there is currently no synagogue in Montenegro. In December 2017, the community laid the cornerstone for a synagogue in Podgorica on land given to them by the Montenegrin government in 2013. The synagogue will be the first in the century, and for the time being, the community prays in the home of Montenegro’s Chabad rabbi, Ari Edelkopf.
Montenegro’s citizens are very friendly with the Jewish population, and there is no anti-Semitism in the country. The community is small but active, and maintains a very good relationship with the government. At the end of January 2012, the Jewish community and the government signed the Act on Mutual Relations. Jews enjoy complete freedom to practice their religion provided they maintain the law. Despite its small size, the Montenegrin Jewish community is well-organized, with representation on a national, regional, and global scale.

Every year in November, the community organizes the Mahar Conference for the members of Jewish communities in the region, sponsored by the World Jewish Congress and the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.

In 2014, Almanah, a magazine of the Jewish Community of Montenegro, was founded with the goal to strengthen Jewish identity and to preserve Jewish continuity.  It features a wide range of articles by prominent Rabbis, Jewish writers, intellectuals and communal leaders on topics and individuals of interest to the community. Like the “Mahar” conference, Almanah is devoted to connecting the Jews of Montenegro not only to other Jewish communities in the region but also to European Jewry generally.

Round tables and panel discussions on themes of Jewish interest are held in the community’s library name for Dr. Albert Weiss. The community also sponsors Hebrew language courses
The Hebrew language course is launched.

Religious and Community Life

Though the community is quite small and largely concentrated in Podgorica, the nation’s capital, Montenegrin Jewry is very organized and tight-knit. Towards the end of 2017, the community welcomed Chabad Rabbi Ari Edelkopf as the first resident rabbi in more than a century, in addition to being the first Montenegrin rabbi since independence in 2006.

Rabbi Moshe Prelevic, the chief rabbi of Croatia, provided spiritual guidance for the Montenegrin before Rabbi Edelkopf arrived in the country, and continues to assist the community, working with Rabbi Edelkopf to ensure that the religious needs of the community are met.

Israel

Montenegro and Israel maintain full diplomatic relations, with Israel officially recognizing the country almost immediately after independence from Serbia.  Israel is represented by its embassy in Belgrade.

updated

 

April 2018

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