The Jewish minority in the Balkans has been a lasting presence for hundreds of years.
By Linda Karadaku and Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Tirana and Belgrade -- 03/02/12.
While Albania proved a haven for Jews during World War II, most left for Israel after 1990. [Appolon Reuben Zenuni]
A 2010 study found that of Europe's 800 million residents, a scant 1.4 million are Jewish. And in many nations of Southeast Europe, the percentage of Jews is much smaller -- from 15,000 in Romania, to a few hundred in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Belgium, and just a few dozen Jewish residents of Kosovo.
But despite their numbers, Jewish traditions and customs have endured for thousands of years.
Many Jews from around Europe found support and protection in Albania during World War II, making the country unique in its support for the Jewish community. Albania was the only country in Europe to emerge from World War II with a larger Jewish population than before.
Petrit Zorba, chairman of the Albania-Israel Friendship Association, says there are two groups of Jews in Albania -- Jews of Albanian origin that come and go to Israel, and people of Jewish origin that work in Albania in telecommunications, construction, and the food industry.
Most Albanian Jews left for Israel after 1990, as many Albanians did, going to different European countries for economic reasons.
"The trend changed and there is a good number who return. They return mostly for business reasons. There are some who return for family reasons as well, because they have relatives, or connections in Albania. Therefore we can say that the tendency or the trend now is not to leave, but to return to our country."
Despite their small numbers, the faith remains important to those who continue to observe traditions that date back thousands of years.
Apollon Ruben Zenuni recently celebrated one of Judiasm's most important holidays, the Passover Sedar, in Tirana with other Jews from Albania and the region. They gathered in a restaurant with other Jews from Sofia and Montenegro.
Zenuni's Passover table included unleavened bread, called galeta, a traditional Passover platter and four glasses of wine. As practicing religion was forbidden in Albania since 1967, formally practicing Judaism was not an option for his family.
Zenuni said the family would gather for religious practices in secret. He recalls these practices.
"Until 1968, grandpa and grandma used to send us food for Passover from Israel: the galeta [bread] and mom prepared the dishes…Then the regime cut it off [wouldn't give them the packages coming from Israel any more]. Mom continued to make them [galeta] by herself, at home for every celebration."