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A Serbian city’s Jewish community barely survived the Holocaust. Now it might die out.

NOVI SAD, Serbia (JTA) — In the heart of downtown in Serbia’s second-largest city, nestled between brick buildings on a leafy street, sits a large synagogue.

With its 130-foot-high central dome and faded yellow brick facade, along with its Jewish school and offices on either side, the synagogue’s three-building complex has become a must-see tourist attraction, with multilingual panels in its courtyard explaining the area’s Jewish history.

The synagogue was built to accommodate up to 950 worshippers in the first decade of the 20th century. But like the city and Serbia more broadly, the building has clearly seen better days. On two recent days, a family was camped outside the entrance, begging passersby for money.

Before World War II, Novi Sad had roughly 60,000 inhabitants, 4,300 of whom were Jews — about 7% of the total population. Most were affluent merchants, lawyers, doctors and professors. Their wealth was reflected in the city’s opulent synagogue, constructed between 1906 and 1909 by Hungarian Jewish architect Lipot Baumhorn, whose work incorporated elements of the Art Nouveau movement.

Today, however, the prominent building serves a dwindling community that, like others decimated by the Holocaust and further eroded by the Balkan wars of the 1990s, fears for its future as residents disperse abroad. Only about 640 Jews remain in Novi Sad; others have sought a future in Israel or countries that offer more economic opportunity.

“We use our own shul only for Yom Kippur,” said Novi Sad native Ladislav Trajer, the deputy president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Serbia.

“We get six to 10 people for Shabbat — maybe 15 — but fewer than half are male so we can’t make a minyan,” said Trajer, referencing  a Jewish prayer quorum of 10 men. He spent eight years in Israel and also served in the Israel Defense Forces. “Even in Belgrade, which is much larger, the rabbi doesn’t always get a minyan. And nobody here keeps kosher. You can’t get kosher meat.”

A view of Novi Sad from the Petrovaradin Fortress. (Zoran Strajin/Wikimedia Commons)

Novi Sad was a thriving center of Jewish life in prewar Yugoslavia and the city — now a metropolis of 370,000 sometimes called the “Serbian Athens” — was named a European Culture Capital of 2022 for its arts, food, architecture and other cultural scenes.

But most local Jews see few prospects for themselves in a country beset by economic turmoil. Between 1990 and 2000 — following Yugoslavia’s collapse; the ethnic wars in Croatia, Bosnia and later Kosovo; and the imposition of crippling sanctions by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations — Serbia’s GDP tumbled from $24 billion to $8.7 billion. By 1993, nearly 40% of Serbia’s people were living on less than $2 a day, and at present, the average Serb earns approximately $430 to $540 a month.

Despite those difficulties, Serbia agreed in 2017 to pay just over $1 million annually over the ensuing 25 years to its remaining Jews as compensation for property nationalized by the postwar communist regime. Half of that money goes directly to Jewish community organizations, 20% to Holocaust survivors and the remaining 30% to projects that aim to preserve Jewish traditions.

Ladislav Trajer, left, and Mirko Štark, the top two leaders of the Jewish community in Novi Sad, chat just outside the entrance to their synagogue. (Larry Luxner)

Since 2012, the Novi Sad community has also earned income by renting out its huge synagogue to the municipality for classical music concerts. In return, the city maintains the complex as a historic monument, and it is now repairing the synagogue’s roof and fixing leaky water pipes.

“These buildings were close to collapse,” said Trajer. He added that the city’s neglected Jewish cemetery can look like a forest. “So we are cutting the trees and struggling to put up fences.”

Although antisemitic incidents are not too common, Serbia, like most other countries in Eastern Europe, also contends with a strong nationalist streak. Trajer, who monitors antisemitism closely, said around 1,500 Serbs belong to extremist groups, of which perhaps 120 are active. Serbian Action, a small group of neo-Nazis, occasionally holds rallies and spray-paints antisemitic, anti-immigrant and anti-gay graffiti on public buildings.

“In high school, my history professor joked that Hitler couldn’t get into an art academy, and that’s why he decided to kill the Jews,” said Teodora Paljic, a 20-year-old Jewish university student. “I don’t talk about these things with people I don’t feel safe around.”

She said that “Life in Serbia is very difficult” because “all the prices have gone up, but salaries haven’t increased since 2019.”

Trajer says the community is working to clean up the city’s Jewish cemetery. (Larry Luxner)

Novi Sad is the capital of Vojvodina, an autonomous province that covers much of northern Serbia, and at the local Jewish community’s zenith, 86 synagogues flourished in the province. Today, only 11 remain standing, and most have fallen into disuse.

Mirko Štark, president of the Jewish Community of Novi Sad, said Jews first settled in the city in the 17th century, shortly after its founding in 1694 under the Hapsburg monarchy.

“When the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where most Ashkenazim lived, introduced new laws that restricted Jews from living in cities, many people ran to the border area, where these laws were not so strictly enforced,” Štark said. Later, when the Serbs captured Vojvodina, those restrictions were rescinded, and the Jewish community blossomed.

Following World War I and the establishment of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes — later Yugoslavia — Novi Sad’s Jews enjoyed a cultural and economic renaissance that saw the formation of a Jewish community center, athletic clubs, choirs and several Jewish newspapers.

That renaissance ended abruptly in 1941, when the Hungarian army, in collaboration with Nazi Germany, occupied Novi Sad, making life for Jews intolerable. Over a three-day period in January 1942 now known as the Novi Sad Massacre, the Hungarians rounded up more than 1,400 Jews, seized their property, shot them in their backs and threw them into the freezing Danube River.

After Hungary’s capitulation to Germany, armed guards herded the city’s remaining 1,800 Jews into the synagogue and kept them there for two days in deplorable conditions without food or water. On April 27, 1944, the Nazis marched their weakened Jewish captives to the train station, then forced them on a train to Auschwitz that took two months to arrive due to Allied bombing.

University student Teodora Paljic, 20, helps arrange cultural programs for Jewish youth in Novi Sad. (Larry Luxner)

Only 300 of Novi Sad’s Jews survived the Holocaust, and rebuilt the community virtually from scratch in the ensuing postwar chaos.

“There were no religious people anymore, and no rabbi,” said Štark. “Many went to Israel in the first aliyah. The small number of Jews remaining tried to keep the community alive, opening a kitchen to provide food for people who couldn’t buy for themselves. My grandmother survived Auschwitz. She worked in that kitchen.”

According to Trajer, from 1948 to 2022, no Shabbat services were held. These days, Trajer conducts all religious services because he’s the only one who knows the Hebrew prayers fluently.

A view of the interior of the Novi Sad synagogue. (Larry Luxner)

With 640 members, Novi Sad has the nation’s second-largest Jewish population after Belgrade. The capital is home to more than half of the country’s 3,000 Jews, out of a total population of 7.1 million. Smaller Jewish communities can also be found in Subotica, Niš and other cities. Only the synagogues in Belgrade and Subotica — the latter located a few miles from the Hungarian border — still function.

Most members of the Novi Sad community, including Štark, have married non-Jews.

“My wife is not Jewish. Neither was my mother. Only my father was Jewish,” he said. “After World War II, the choices for finding husbands and wives within the community was limited. For this reason, we accept non-Jewish spouses as members. This is the only way to survive.”

Štark, 70, is a retired professor of media production who worked for years at Novi Sad’s main TV station. He’s also the longtime president of the synagogue’s choir, HaShira, which sings in Hebrew, Ladino and Yiddish and recently won an award for its performances in neighboring Montenegro. Only three of the choir’s 35 members are Jews.

“When I began my mandate as president a year and a half ago, we woke up many activities in the Jewish community that had existed only on a small scale before,” he said.

A makeshift nine-branched menorah contructed from recycled water pipes is seen outside the synagogue in Novi Sad. (Larry Luxner)

Besides the choir, these include the Zmaya dance troupe as well as a Jewish culture club that meets every Tuesday at 6 p.m. to discuss books and Israeli movies. There’s also a “baby club” for small children and another club for teens, whose activities are led by two adults. Hanukkah and Passover are celebrated by families together, and on Tu B’Shvat, the community plants trees.

The community is also investing in its members, and Paljic is emblematic of that hope.

Paljic, interviewed at the trendy Café Petrus, a 15-minute walk from Novi Sad’s Jewish cemetery, is the daughter of Jewish parents who met at a Purim party in Belgrade.

“My grandparents were killed in Jasenovac [a notoriously brutal concentration camp], but my best friend’s grandmother survived Auschwitz,” she said. “The problem is, people don’t talk about Judaism because they’re scared. There is still antisemitism. Last year, somebody drew a swastika at the entrance to the Jewish cemetery in Belgrade. We were all shocked.”

This summer, Paljic worked as a counselor at Hungary’s Camp Szarvas, which brings together young Jews from throughout Central and Eastern Europe. The camp welcomed 20 children from Novi Sad this year; the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee paid their tuition.

While she would like to be close to her family, Paljic said she must be practical.

“I want to go somewhere outside Serbia when I finish college,” she said. “I don’t see my career here. I love art history and photography, but there’s no money in that in Serbia.”

Despite the challenges, Štark isn’t ready to say kaddish for Novi Sad’s Jews just yet.

“We will keep the Jewish spirit alive here. We are working hard, starting with the children,” he said. “If we don’t, everything will die in five or 10 years. So it depends on us.”


The post A Serbian city’s Jewish community barely survived the Holocaust. Now it might die out. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Alleged Neo-Nazi Indicted for Plot to Carry Out New Year’s Eve Mass Casualty Attack Against Jews, Other Minorities

An American flag waves outside the US Department of Justice Building in Washington, US, Dec. 2, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Tom Brenner

US federal authorities have charged, and a grand jury has indicted, a foreign national with planning a mass casualty attack against Jews and other minorities in New York on New Year’s Eve.

The United States Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of New York reported that a grand jury indicted Georgian national Michail Chkhikvishvili with soliciting hate crimes and acts of mass violence.

Chkhikvishvili is reportedly the leader of a group called the “Maniac Murder Cult,” a white supremacist, neo-Nazi group.

Specifically, he was recruiting people to carry out arson and bombing attacks — as well as attacks aimed at Jewish and other minority children, according to US officials.

The US Attorney’s Office explained that the “planned New Year’s Eve attack involved Santa Claus handing out poisoned candy to racial minorities as well as distributing poisoned candy to Jewish children in Brooklyn.”

There were more than 450,000 Jews who lived in Brooklyn as of May 2024. Many neighborhoods are known to be predominantly Hasidic.

Authorities found out about the plot when Chkhikvishvili solicited an undercover law enforcement official to be involved in the attack.

He “sought to recruit others to commit violent attacks and killings in furtherance of his Neo-Nazi ideologies,” US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace said in a statement. “We will not hesitate to find and prosecute those who threaten the safety and freedoms of all members of our community, including members of minority communities, no matter where in the world these criminals might be hiding.”

FBI New York Acting Assistant Director Christie Curtis lauded law enforcement for stopping the attack before it could ever take place.

“The swift disruption of this individual, accused of allegedly plotting violent attacks in New York, sends a clear message: we will use every resource in our power to ensure the safety of the American people,” she said. “The men and women who work on this task force day in and day out exemplify true service to our community, demonstrating unwavering commitment in thwarting those who seek to harm our citizens and our way of life.”

The plot comes amid a wave of antisemitic attacks that ramped up in America and around the world after Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, amid the ensuing war in Gaza.

Earlier this month, an observant Jew was sucker punched and beaten in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, DC. The alleged attacker subsequently expressed his motive, saying “They’re [the Jews] the cause of all our wars,” and “We know who you are! We know the lies that you’ve told, that you have stolen the place of the true children of Israel.”

He was charged with assault and a hate crime.

In December, the FBI said there had been a 60 percent spike in antisemitic hate crime investigations since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war. Then, in April, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the probes into antisemitic crimes tripled in the months following Oct. 7.

“Between Oct. 7 and Jan. 30 of this year, we opened over three times more anti-Jewish hate crime investigations than in the four months before Oct. 7,” he explained.

Last year, the FBI found that 63 percent of all religiously motivated hate crimes in the US were directed against Jews.

The post Alleged Neo-Nazi Indicted for Plot to Carry Out New Year’s Eve Mass Casualty Attack Against Jews, Other Minorities first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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RNC Spotlights Campus Antisemitism as Elise Stefanik Teases ‘Bombshell’ Findings From US Congressional Probe

US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) speaks during a House Education and The Workforce Committee hearing titled ‘Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism’ on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, Dec. 5, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ken Cedeno

US lawmakers are preparing to release later this year a trove of new “bombshell” information revealing the extent to which antisemitism has been allowed to flourish on university campuses across the country, according to a high-ranking Republican.

US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) spoke with political pundit and podcast host Megyn Kelly about the efforts of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to investigate surging antisemitism, including anti-Jewish bias, on college campuses. While reminiscing over last December’s congressional hearing with the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — in which each campus leader proclaimed that calls for a genocide of Jews may not violate school rules depending on “the context” — Stefanik revealed that the committee has obtained new documents shedding light on anti-Jewish hate at elite universities.

“This is pervasive in higher-ed. We have worked on this investigation, and if you think the hearing was bad, Megyn, we’re going to have to talk about all the documents that have been turned over because of our subpoena,” Stefanik said. “We’ll put out a report later this year. That’s even more bombshell material in there. It’s a disgrace what’s happening at these universities.”

Antisemitism has exploded at universities since the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, amid the ensuing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Over the past several months, the committee has rigorously investigated antisemitism at America’s most prestigious universities. The panel recently unearthed and exposed text message exchanges between Columbia University deans which revealed the campus leaders mocking Jewish students as “privileged.” The lawmakers also alleged, based on their investigation, that Harvard University has engaged in a “pattern of inaction” in response to campus antisemitism.

Stefanik spoke to Kelly at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Republicans are gathering this week to nominate their 2024 presidential candidate. The issue of campus antisemitism has been a key issue highlighted at the RNC.

On Wednesday night, Shabbos Kestenbaum, a recent Harvard graduate suing his alma mater over its alleged failure to protect Jewish students, took the RNC main stage and delivered an impassioned speech on campus antisemitism. Kestenbaum said that the surge of unchecked antisemitism on Harvard’s campus in the months following Oct. 7 left him disillusioned with progressives, prompting his move to the political right. 

“After Oct. 7, the world finally saw what I and so many Jewish students across this country experienced almost every day,” he told the RNC crowd. 

“My problem with Harvard is not its liberalism, but its illiberalism. Too often, students at Harvard are taught not how to think, but what to think. I found myself immersed in a culture that is anti-Western, that is anti American, and that is antisemitic,” Kestenbaum said. 

Kestenbaum implored the crowd to support the presidential campaign of Republican nominee Donald Trump. 

“Sadly the far-left wing tide of antisemitism is rising,” Kestenbaum said. “But tonight, tonight we fight back. I am proud to support President Trump’s policies to expel foreign students who violate our laws, harass our Jewish classmates, and desecrate our freedoms … let’s elect a president who recognizes that although Harvard and the Ivy Leagues have long abandoned the United States of America, the Jewish people never will.”

Anti-Israel protests have ravaged college campuses across the United States in the months following Oct. 7. Students at prominent universities such as Harvard, Columbia, and MIT have participated in demonstrations chanting slogans such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” and “Burn Tel Aviv to the ground!” Progressive student organizations have also openly banned “Zionists,” forcing Jewish students to choose between supporting Israel and maintaining their social network. Campus demonstrators have also openly cheered Hamas and in some cases threatened or committed violence against Jewish students.

Jewish donors and alumni have condemned university administrators over their unwillingness to shut down demonstrations. As a result, many of them have pulled funding and vowed not to allow their children to enroll at their alma maters.

Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots NFL team, has ceased donating to Columbia University, citing “virulent hate” against Jews on campus.  Ross Stevens, founder and CEO of Stone Ridge Asset Management, pulled a $100 million donation from the University of Pennsylvania. The MIT Jewish Alumni Alliance urged Jewish graduates and allies to protest campus antisemitism by lowering their annual donation amount to $1.

The post RNC Spotlights Campus Antisemitism as Elise Stefanik Teases ‘Bombshell’ Findings From US Congressional Probe first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Pro-Israel Group Calls on US Justice Department to Apply ‘KKK Laws’ to Pro-Hamas Demonstrations

Pro-Hamas demonstrators at Columbia University in New York City, US, April 29, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

StandWithUs (SWU), a Jewish civil rights group based in California, is imploring the US Justice Department to crack down on masked protests at Columbia University by enforcing legal statues which are widely referred to as the “KKK Laws,” citing a hostile environment at the school in which pro-Hamas demonstrators who have harassed and assaulted Jewish students continuously evade justice by concealing their identities.

Dating back to the administration of former US President Ulysses S. Grant, the so-called “KKK Laws” empower the federal government to prosecute those who engage in activities which violate the civil rights of protected groups, as the Ku Klux Klan did across the US South during Reconstruction to prevent African Americans from voting and living as free citizens. StandWithUs alleges that five anti-Zionist groups — most notably Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — currently operating on Columbia University’s campus have perpetrated similar abuses in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which guarantees all students, regardless of race or ethnic background, has the right to a safe learning environment.

The most obvious parallel between their conduct and the KKK’s, StandWithUs noted, is an inveterate shrouding of their members’ faces with masks and keffiyehs, the traditional headscarf worn by Palestinians that has become known as a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinian cause and opposition to Israel. Images and footage of the practice have been widely circulated online, and it has rendered identifying the protesters — many of whom have chanted antisemitic slogans, vandalized school property, and threatened to harm Jewish students and faculty during a weeks-long demonstration between April and May — virtually impossible.

Additionally, the groups — which also include Within Our Lifetime (WOL), Columbia/Barnard Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP), Columbia University Apartheid, Columbia School of Social Work 4 Palestine (CSSW4P), and Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine (FJP) — have proclaimed their intention to purge Columbia’s campus of Zionists, a category which includes an overwhelming majority of Jews in the US and around the world. Their rhetoric, StandWithUs added, is unlike any uttered in the US since demonstrations against school integration in the 1950s.

“We hope the Department of Justice (DOJ) will take this opportunity to restore justice on Columbia University’s campuses and hold bad actors responsible for violating federal laws,” Yael Lerman, director of the SWU Saidoff Legal Department, said on Wednesday. “Columbia President Shafik’s concession that Columbia is a hostile environment for Jewish students in violation of Title VI reflects a critical need for the current administration to take decisive action at Columbia.”

Lerman added, “We urge the DOJ to investigate the school’s failure to prevent groups and individuals on its campus from joining forces and depriving Jewish students of their civil rights, a failure that runs afoul of the KKK laws.”

SWU’s letter — sent to US Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department on Wednesday — comes amid an ongoing lawsuit the organization’s Legal Center for Justice (SCLJ) filed against Columbia University in February over its alleged failure to prevent and respond to an explosion of anti-Jewish hate incidents which have occurred on the campus since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, an event the protesters cheered and defended as an act of decolonization inspired by the ideas of far-left political philosophers such as Frantz Fanon.

SWU amended its complaint against Columbia in June, adding 45 students as plaintiffs and over “230 pages of allegations.” Meanwhile, the accusations which surfaced following the group’s first filing have already stained Columbia’s reputation.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews,” “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” Columbia protesters chanted on campus grounds after Oct. 7, violating the school’s code of conduct but never facing consequences for doing so, the complaint alleges. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

The protesters later reinforced their rhetoric with violence, the complaint adds. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another allegedly attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen. Following the incidents, pleas for help went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held its demonstrations.

The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were purportedly forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events while no one explained the inconsistency.

Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, who took office in July 2023, recently attempted to assuage concerns that Columbia has become a sanctuary for antisemites after it was revealed that five high-level administrators participated in a group-chat in which ideas that “disturbingly touched on ancient antisemitic tropes” were exchanged. She fired none of the administrators, however, which has led to calls for her to resign from office.

“We will launch a vigorous program of antisemitism and antidiscrimination [sic] training for faculty and staff this fall, with related training for students under the auspices of university life,” Shafik said in statement. “Columbia’s leadership team recognizes this as an important moment to implement changes that will build a stronger institution as a result. I know that you all share this commitment.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post Pro-Israel Group Calls on US Justice Department to Apply ‘KKK Laws’ to Pro-Hamas Demonstrations first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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