Community in North Macedonia - World Jewish Congress

North Macedonia

The Republic of North Macedonia, is home to about 200 Jews. Maintaining ties with all regional Jewish communities, including the ones in Belgrade, Serbia and Thessaloniki, Greece, Macedonian Jewry is a small, yet active community that is currently experiencing a revival of interest in Jewish religious life. The Macedonian Jewish community is represented by the Jewish Community in the Republic of Macedonia – the Macedonian affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate

Jewish Community in the Republic of Macedonia

Tel: +389 2 3214 799, +389 2 3237 543
e-mail:   contact@ezrm.org.mk
Website: http://www.ezrm.org.mk/

President: Berta Romano Nikolic
Secretary General: Jana Nichota



History

The Jewish presence in Macedonia dates back to the end of the Second Temple period, as Jews settled in the area following Alexander the Great’s conquering of Asia Minor in 330 BCE. This association with the classical world marked the community’s importance, evident by Philo referring to the Jews of Macedonia in a list of Jewish communities quoted from the correspondence of Agrippa I to Caligula. Moreover, ruins of a 3rd Century synagogue in Stobi are evidence of a once-sizeable community situated on an important commercial crossroads between Turkey and Western Europe.

The greatest influx of Jews to Macedonia occurred during Ottoman Rule, a period in which Macedonian Jews thrived. This may be in part why Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition decided to seek refuge in Macedonia. These Jews spoke Ladino, the medieval language of Sephardim, and brought a distinct culture with them. In cities throughout the country – such as Bitola, Stip, and Skopje – these Jews prospered in a number of industries and the community enjoyed peaceful relations with the rest of the Macedonian population.

Religiosity among the community began to decline in the 18th and 19th century, but the study of Kabbalah remained an important facet of Jewish religious life in Macedonia. The end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century was a time of prosperity for Macedonian Jews, as the community found itself involved in many aspects of Macedonian public life – including industry, agriculture, and trade. The community’s population also continued to grow during this period, with the Jewish population of Salonika growing so large that almost all citizens (including the gentile population) were fluent in Ladino.  
However, Greek control over the city of Salonika in 1912 saw Jews prohibited from residing in certain parts of the city, resulting in a large number of the Jewish population emigrating to the United States and other European countries. That being said, the Jewish community in Macedonia continued to constitute a sizeable portion of the Macedonian population.

The two World Wars and the Shoah were devastating to the Macedonian Jewish community, and after 1945, the Jewish community in Macedonia was virtually non-existent. Many Holocaust survivors immigrated to Israel. For the few remaining Jews in the country, life was somewhat tolerable as a member of the communist federation of Yugoslavia under President Josip Tito, despite the staunch secularism that his regime promoted.

Life throughout the latter part of the 20th century was precarious for the Jewish community in Macedonia, largely due to external geopolitical tensions involving the region. The breakup of Yugoslavia saw Macedonia gain its independence in 1991, with the Jewish Community of the Republic being one of the five religious communities included in the Constitution of the Republic.

Since achieving its independence, Macedonia has been one of the few countries fully committed to the protection of the property rights of deported Jews without living heirs. In 2000, the government passed an heirless property restitution law. Today the Jewish community of Macedonia is largely centered in Skopje, the nation’s capital, and enjoys a sense of stability despite heavy emigration.

The Years of the Holocaust

On the eve of the Holocaust, when Macedonia was a part of Yugoslavia, there were nearly 8,000 Jews and five synagogues in Bitola (Monastir), and some 3,000 Jews in Skopje. In 1941, Macedonia came under the control of Bulgaria, an ally of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, with dire consequences for the Macedonia’s Jewish population. Under Bulgarian occupation, Macedonian Jews were subjected to racial laws that forced them to war identifying yellow stars, and the Bulgarian occupation authorities stripped the Jews of their property.

In 1943, almost all Jews in Macedonia were deported to Treblinka, with those who managed to avoid deportation in hiding or with the partisans. The Holocaust was utterly devastating for the Macedonian Jewish community, with about 98% of its population murdered in the Holocaust. Proportionately, that was the highest loss of any Jewish community during the Shoah.

Demography

Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimated the Macedonian Jewish community to number between 100 and 300 as of 1993. Most Macedonian Jews live in Skopje, but there are also a handful in Bitola. Outside of that, there is little, if not any, traces of Jewish life in Macedonia.

Community Life

Despite the Macedonian Jewish community’s small size, there is a high level of organization. The Jewish Community in the Republic of Macedonia acts as the leading communal group for the Macedonian Jewry, as it encompasses political, social, and religious functions for Jews across Macedonia. Moreover, the Macedonian Jewish community is involved in the regional Jewish community, and is a member of the European Jewish Congress. The community also participates in the yearly Mahar Conference, which is hosted by the Montenegrin Jewish community and brings to together the various Jewish communities of Southern Europe.

Jewish life in Macedonia is quite prominent, exemplified by a Jewish community center in Skopje that acts as a center for Jewish life in the country’s capital, and houses a synagogue, kosher kitchen, and even hosts a Jewish woman’s club. The community also has an arts clubs and a library. 

The Holocaust Fund of the Jews from Macedonia is a foundation established by the Government’s decision No. 23-2112/1 on April 23rd, 2002, based on the Law on Denationalization (Official Gazette of the Republic of Macedonia, No. 20/98, No. 31/00, No. 43/00). The Fund is managed by the Board consisting of six members: three representatives of the Jewish community and three representatives of the Government. The main goal of the Foundation is to preserve the memories, tradition and culture of the Jews who have not survived the Holocaust by establishing the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia.

 

Religious and Cultural Life

The Beth Yaakov Synagogue in Skopje is the only functioning Jewish house of worship in the country. It was consecrated in the building of the Jewish Community in 2000 with the assistance of the Macedonian government, the JOINT, and the Jewish community of Pasadena, California. Macedonian Jews maintain close contacts with the Jewish communities of Belgrade and Thessaloniki in order to meet religious demands.

Jewish Education

Due to the small size of the community there are currently no Jewish day schools, though the Jewish community in Skopje is now able to operate a Sunday school. Referred to as the “Children’s Corner,” this weekly Jewish education covers the basic tenants of Judaism – including holidays, customs, and traditions.

In terms of Jewish religious tertiary education, there are currently no Yeshivot or rabbinical studies centers in the country either. There is, however, a sizeable amount of Holocaust education in the country, facilitated by both the community and government, that also promotes a general understanding of Judaism. For example, the Memorial Holocaust Center in Skopje focuses on teaching about Jewish culture and history (both regionally and broadly).

youth

The Jewish Community in Macedonia has a number of youth-oriented activities. The Anachnu club caters to the community's young adults aged 18–26 and the Youth Club and Children’s Corner, both part of the Jewish Community Center in Skopje, also instill a sense of Jewish identity and understanding of tradition. 

Information for Visitors

There are a number of notable Jewish sites of interest in Macedonia. In Skopje, the Holocaust Memorial Center constitutes an important center of remembrance and education, and was built on the ruins of what was once the city’s Jewish neighborhood, is one of the most impressive institutions of its kind in Europe. 

In Stobi, there are ruins from an earthquake-struck Jewish community that contains a rich view into the history of Macedonian Jewry. A theater, palaces, homes of wealthy families and beautiful fourth-century mosaics with animal motifs that were part of a baptistery, are some of the many things that remain. A third-century inscription describes construction work on a synagogue. The donor was Klaudios Tiberios Polycharmos, whose family home was apparently adjacent to that synagogue, which had frescoed walls. In the fourth century, a synagogue with geometric-design mosaics and frescoed walls was built above the earlier synagogue, and in the fifth century a church was built on the later synagogue. According to guide Toshe Baleski, the columns visible at the site were part of the church; the fourth-century synagogue’s mosaics, which are undergoing conservation, can be viewed in the outdoor exhibition space at the far edge of the site.

Bitola also constitutes an important center of past Jewish life in Macedonia. At 24 Ruzveltova (Roosevelt) Street, off Sirok Sokak, stands the building that housed the Zionist left-wing youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, many of whose members joined the partisans.

Israel

Israel and Macedonia maintain full diplomatic relations, with Israel even changing its position on Macedonia and recognizing it under its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia, as opposed to the provisional UN reference to Macedonia as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Israel is represented in Macedonia by an Honorary Consul.

Israeli Honorary Consulate in Skopje, Macedonia
Gradimir Shumkovski, Honorary Consul
ul.  Jordan Hadzi Konstantinov Dzinot 19/1
1000 Skopje
Macedonia

Telephone: +389 2 3121 735
E-mail:  g.shumkovski@hcsi-macedonia.org

updated

 

April 2018

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