A piece of Jewish history was made on Thursday, October 31, 2019, in Montenegro, as Rabbi Ari Edelkopf was appointed the first ever permanent Chief Rabbi of the state.
The induction ceremony was attended by Montenegro President Milo Jokanovic, Israel’s Minister of Religious Services, Yitzchak Vaknin; Chairman of the Rabbinical Center of Europe, Rabbi Menachem Margolin; Director of the Rabbinical Center of Europe, Rabbi Arie Goldberg; Israel’s Chief Rabbinate Representative, Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weiss; President of the Montenegro Jewish Community, Giorgio Raicovich and dozens of Montenegrin ministers and MPs.
For the last two years, Rabbi Edelkopf has served as the Rabbi of Montnegro’s Jewish community, which numbers more than 500 Jewish families – some of whom are natives of Montenegro and others who moved to the state in recent years. The local government has recognized Judaism as an official religion and takes its needs into consideration.
The induction day began with an official meeting between Israel’s Religious Affairs Minister, Rabbi Yitzchak Vaknin and the Montenegrin Justice Minister, who is a central government official. Durign the conversation, Minister Vaknin noted the close ties between Israel and Montenegro, and stressed the need to express that cooperation in other programs as well. The local Justice Minister replied that there is willingness on the part of the government to cooperate with Israel. He praised the important contribution of Montenegro’s Jewish community to the ties between the two nations, as well as the unity among the religions and ethnicities in the country. He noted that society in Montenegro “attributes deep respect to the spiritual and cultural heritage of each of the religious communities in Montenegro.”
During the ceremony, Rabbi Edelkopf stated that “In Judaism, to be a teacher is the biggest honor. The Jewish community in Montenegro is unique and I feel honored to be its Rabbi. I would like to thank my wife Chana. Everything I’ve achieved ever as a rabbi is all thanks to her and our Rebbe, who says: Everyone needs to share his or her knowledge with others. Even if you know only one letter, share it. With Hashem’s help we’ll all strive and aim for that.”
Montenegro President Milo Jokanovic noted that: “We live in hard times. Anti-Semitism is on the rise and is not only a problem for the Jewish community but for the whole of Europe. The appointment of a chief rabbi in Montenegro is a bright spot that we are all happy about. Rabbi Edelkopf is a not only the chief rabbi of the Jewish community, but of the entire country of Montenegro and we will continue our fruitful cooperation with the Jewish community working with him.”
It should be noted that throughout the years, the Montenegrin people have been very supportive of the Jewish people and many Montenegrins helped to hide Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust. Since its declaration of independence in 2006, the various governments in the state have maintained very good relations with the Jewish community, which is reflected, among other things, in the allocation of land for building synagogues and in the very small number of anti-Semitic incidents in the country. The country also recently recognized Jewish holidays, so Jews who didn’t want to work on Yom Kippur received permission to be absent.
Chairman of the European Jewish Association (EJA) and the Rabbinical Center of Europe (RCE), Rabbi Menachem Margolin, who initiated the historic appointment in Montenegro, thanked President Jokanovic for his unwavering support for the Jewish people. He congratulated Rabbi Edelkopf on the appointment and stated: “President Jokanovic is a true friend of the Jewish people and brings with him a very rich experience in the fight against anti-Semitism all over Europe. We look forward to continuing to work hand in hand with him on this issue”.
Minister of Religious Services in Israel, Yitzhak Vaknin thanked President Jokanovic and EJA Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin for their efforts to strengthen the Jewish community in Montenegro and throughout the Balkans. He noted that “we have not given the Rav authority, but rather servitude, as he will be working day and night with the members of his community, teaching them and guiding them on the right path to their destination.” He added that the State of Israel sees itself as an address for all the Jews of the world, both the Jews who want to make Aliyah to Israel and the Jews who choose to live in the Balkans. “We want to deepen the dialogue and cooperation with everyone,” he concluded.
Director of the Rabbinical Center of Europe, Rabbi Arie Goldberg, noted during the ceremony that: “The appointment of Rabbi Edelkopf as permanent Chief Rabbi of Montenegro will greatly contribute to strengthening the spiritual and physical infrastructure of the Jewish community in the country. We at the Rabbinical Center of Europe, will continue to assist rabbis and Jewish community leaders – small and large throughout the continent, to grow, develop, and maintain their Jewish identity.”