- The American Jewish Daughter of Albania, Dr. Anna Kohen, continues to share with the world the masterpiece of Albanian Virtue of BESA /
By Merita B. McCormack- Washington DC/
Sunday , November 17, 2019 was unique, as usual where there is involvement of our beloved Dr. Anna Kohen and her Jewish friends of DC Metro area. In a packed conference hall of the Conservative Synagogue of the Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac Maryland, there were hundreds of Americans, congregants, scholars, journalists, historians, politicians, business people and among them many Albanian Americans of Metro DC Area as well.
As we know her, our sister and daughter of Albania , the former President of Motrat Qiriazi Organization and an all time Jewish Community leader, Doctor Anna Kohen was very busy welcoming every person and greeting everyone like there was no other one in the room, she was into something special.
With a fruitful collaboration of the event Committee, comprised of our Dr. Anna Kohen, Ms. Gail Shirazi, Ms. Evie Stroller and Kosovar- Jewish diplomat, Ms.Ines Demiri , they put together a beautiful event that will not be forgotten any time soon. The sponsors of the event were Friends of the Jewish Museum of Kosovo together with American Sephardi Federation, Embassy of Kosovo and B’nai Tzedek Congregation.
The participants were in for a special treat. It started with heartwarming music played by our own, DC based , Internationally renowned , the very talented pianist Merzana Kostreci, playing “Lule Bore” and more, and then through a series of speeches, testimonies, a movie screening, award giving and Q &A, people learned a lot about the stories of Jewish people rescued and aided in the Albanian land.
The event started with introduction by Ms. Gail Shirazi. The Welcome remarks were presented by Mr. Frymezim Isufaj, Charge D’Affairs, Embassy of Republic of Kosovo in Washington DC and followed by Her Excellency , Floreta Faber, Ambasador, Embassy of the Republic of Albania.
Mr. Isufaj , who was attending together with his wife Doruntina, spoke on behalf of the Embassy of republic of Kosova. He greeted the participants and thanked the organizers. He, speaking from his heart , but also on behalf of all Kosova people, shared the strong bond that exists between our nations and elaborated on how both nations have helped each other throughout the history. He shared the support of Kosovar people rescuing Jewish people and helping them to pass through to Albania and also he recognized the huge role of the Jewish Diaspora in USA and in Europe , who were among first to help Kosova people during the Serbian ethnic cleansing at the end of last century and to support them in their fight for justice and independence. That help included the refugee taking of the state of Israel as well. He invited historians to do more so more light can be shed on the history of those two countries and nations, helping each other throughout the history.
Madam Ambassador Floreta Luli Faber also spoke about the bond and the ties between the two nations, the history of Jewish being rescued in Albania and she mentioned , among other things, the fact that there is a monument in Albania, which is erected in honor of the Jewish people that managed to survive in Albania. She emphasized that this is the only monument in the world that is dedicated to living Jewish people. Both diplomats’ remarks were interrupted by applause.
The event continued with a greeting by Mr. Jason Steinbaum, from the Office of Congressman Eliot Engel, US Representative of New York’s 16th Congressional District. He shared a story involving President Rugova (now deceased) and the appreciation of Congresman Engel noting a heartfelt gesture of Pres.Rugova. that was applied in honor of a Jewish tradition honoring the dead. Congressman Engel was sorry that he could not be with us due to him being away in NY. Mr. Steinbaum mentioned that this Synagogue, hosting the event, is the worship home of Congressman Engel when in DC.
Ines shared the stories of Jewish in Kosova, the efforts to keep the legacy alive and to educate people on the truths about it. Her grandparents were of Albanian and Jewish background, Ruth Bachar and Gani Demiri, who met in the process of Albanians of Kosova helping Jewish people, which resulted in a beautiful marriage. She said that “sadly, the rescue of Jewish history by the Kosovo Albanian population, is not sufficiently promoted. This is mostly because Kosovo was not an Independent state yet and didn’t have the possibility of accessing the relevant archives. Consequently, these documents were not made known to the general public during that period of time.The Jews, wherever they go they fight to keep their history, culture and tradition alive. And as the Jewish Community of Kosovo, being a small community, we are not representing numbers or statistics but we are representing the history. A history where the Albanians have their role of bravery and rescuer” She went on and mentioned several names of distinguished individuals .Hasan Rrema Xerxa – provided transportation with his own vehicle for reallocating them to Albania. Arsllan Mustafa Rezniqi (His name is listed among the Righteous among nations in Yad Vashem) beside he protected them, he aslo provided safe transportation to Albania. Halim Spahija – Used his business premises to hide Jewssome of them were ordinary citizens and some of them were municipality officials, as in the case of Arif Musa Alickaj and Preng Uli and all of them did their moral duty, using the ancient code of honor BESA. In the case of Preng Uli, he wasn’t able to keep the record of the people that he saved, by giving false passports.Dr. Spiro Lito, an Albanian doctor who worked at the hospital of Pristina, in cooperation with the Mayor of Prishtina and other doctors they took out all the hospitalized people and create places for the Jews with the pretext that they were in quarantine and thereby avoided the risk of deportation. Ines said spoke of the Jewish community of Kosova today , the fact the Judaism is listed as one of the religions in Kosova and the plans for the Jewish Museum of Kosova and thanked all who are helping with this important project. Ines was one of the organizers of the event and was very grateful to the hosts and other co-organizers.
Ines Demiri, the diplomat at the Consulate General of Kosova in NY , presented on History of Jews In Kosovo.
Part of the evening was also to dedicate an award to Preng Uli, the Secretary of Prishtina Town Hall from 1941-1944. He risked his life so others could live. Mr. Uli and others in the community , issued false passports or documents and arranged the passage of Jews to “safe places”, until the end of the War . George (Gjergj) Uli, the son, was able to receive that award which was a beautiful piece of art(mosaic) handmade by a child survivor of the holocaust, who lived in Ukraine. Her name is Masha Roth. She spoke on how she came to know Dr. Kohen and how she was delighted that her art was selected as an award for Mr. Preng Uli. Upon its reception Gjergj Uli was very grateful and spoke about the honor bestowed upon his family and how this is a legacy to go down the generations.
Afterwards Mr. Jakov Sedlar, a successful Croatia based movie maker, introduced the movie to be screened. He mentioned that after hearing the story of Ester he wanted to document it and he did . He made every effort to materialize this movie and spoke passionately about the history and the events. It is because of him, we now have this Face of Love, Hajrie Imeri-Mihajlovic. The movie is about a a very touching story of a Jewish young child, who is still alive and lives in Tel Aviv. By being Jewish she had to suffer greatly. She was put in the camp with her grandma , and was lucky to have been cared for many years by Hajrie Imeri-Mihajlovic, the gypsy lady from Kosova. Hajrie and her family, like her Jewish employees, were expelled from Serbia, a country that had put in effect a a law to rid of gypsies at the same time of Nazi persecuting the Jewish people. Hajrie took care of Ester, raised her as her own and told her the truth, as promised to grandma when the time came. Through many sad trails of life, Hajrie and Ester had different paths, but the bond was never lost. The journey of Ester Levy is one of the most poignant and so beautifully shown in this movie titled “The Righteous Gypsy”.
It is through these moving stories, history of gypsies, their culture, their humility, Ester’s sincere appreciation for the woman that raised her, that an artist manages to draw a portrait of Hajrie which turns out to be very much the face of Hajrie that Ester knew. The moment of revealing it is very beautiful and very meaningful to ester and to the audience. A love that was always present, a woman that has died and no grave can be found, the invisible genuine love, has now a face and a permanent memoir through this movie and also through the name carving in the Yad Vashem* in Israel. It is a reminder that no matter what, genuine Love has lasting effects and eternal rewards. Like the portrait of Hajrie drawn by the artist, the photo of Preng Uli too, is inserted in the beautiful art piece created by Ms. Roth. And both these two people has revealed the face of such beautiful. special Love. While Mr. Uli was known and has descendants to acknowledge, Hajrie’s portrait is the only “relic” we have of her , adding to the memoir of Ester, and yet, a very powerful message is carried through that sweet face of this Righteous Gypsy. It doesn’t take much to love. You just have to do it in every small way. As long as one truly loves and does what it’s right, one can be sure that it does reap fruits of eternal value as it has in the case of Ester and Harjia who really loved her.
The evening was one of tears and joy, of love and remembrance and there is no question why people have traveled from afar to attend. They knew this was going to be good. That beauty and that content perhaps had motivated even the world renowned photographer , Mr. Fadil Berisha to be there and very attentively watch the events unfold. Also, former NAAC Executive Director Mr. Avni Mustafa, a figure that was staple in DC for many years, was also present. Many other known personalities of the Albanian American Diaspora attended as well. Surely it was a gratifying experience for all.
The food was delicious, a mix of Jewish and Albanian food, where baklava and byrek was in abundance.
Ms. Keida Kostreci and her team from Voice of America, Albanian Section, covered the event .
*Yad Vashem (Hebrew: יָד וַשֵׁם; literally, “a monument and a name”)is Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. It is dedicated to preserving the memory of the dead; honoring Jews who fought against their Nazi oppressors and Gentiles who selflessly aided Jews in need; and researching the phenomenon of the Holocaust in particular and genocide in general, with the aim of avoiding such events in the future.
Established in 1953, Yad Vashem is on the western slope of Mount Herzl, also known as the Mount of Remembrance, a height in western Jerusalem, 804 meters (2,638 ft) above sea level and adjacent to the Jerusalem Forest. The memorial consists of a 180-dunam (18.0 ha; 44.5-acre) complex containing two types of facilities: some dedicated to the scientific study of the Holocaust and genocide in general, and memorials and museums catering to the needs of the larger public. Among the former there are a research institute with archives, a library, a publishing house, and an educational center, and the International School/Institute for Holocaust Studies; among the latter, the Holocaust History Museum, memorial sites such as the Children’s Memorial and the Hall of Remembrance, the Museum of Holocaust Art, sculptures, outdoor commemorative sites such as the Valley of the Communities, and a synagogue.
A core goal of Yad Vashem’s founders was to recognize non-Jews who, at personal risk and without a financial or evangelistic motive, chose to save Jews from the ongoing genocide during the Holocaust. Those recognized by Israel as Righteous Among the Nations are honored in a section of Yad Vashem known as the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations.
Yad Vashem is the second-most-visited Israeli tourist site, after the Western Wall, with approximately one million visitors each year. It does not charge any fee for admission (From Wikipedia)