With a small Jewish population of 150 but a long history of Jewish life, Albania finally has a Chief Rabbi to call their own. Rabbi Yoel Kaplan, of Thessaloniki, Greece, was formally appointed to the position last Monday, December 6, at a ceremony attended by Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Rabbi Aryeh Goldberg, deputy of the Rabbinical Center of Europe (RCE), and Rabbi Gershon Mendel Garelik of Chabad in Milan, Italy and co-founder of RCE.
Though Jewish life in Albania dates back some 1,300 years, Rabbi Kaplan said that he had previously been told by locals in his community that Albania has no Jewish population.
“About two and a half years ago, I decided to go see for myself,” says Kaplan, who commutes once a week to Tirana, the capital of Albania. “I was walking down a busy street in the center of the city, and I saw the word ‘Jeweler’ in Hebrew on a sign above a shop. I entered the shop and became acquainted with the Jewish owner, and through him I found a Jewish community laying dormant in Tirana.”
As demand for a spiritual leader and more Jewish infrastructure grew in the community, Prime Minister Salia Berisha responded by meeting with the RCE and requesting a Chief Rabbi for the Jewish population.
Jewish expats living in Tirana enroll their children in ten international schools in the city. Rabbi Kaplan, who works closely with schools to provide Jewish classes for over 60 children says he looks forward to finding more Jewish schoolchildren and raising Jewish awareness in the schools.
Kaplan will soon open a restaurant to provide kosher food for the community and the sizable number of Jewish businessman and tourists who frequent the city.
“Chabad’s goal is to see to the needs of every Jew anywhere in the world, and despite the small number of Jewish people living in Tirana, they also deserve a rabbi and Jewish services. Our hope is that a full time Chabad representative will soon settle here,” Kaplan said.