Brooks Newmark

Bringing Balkan Jews together in Montenegro

I recently attended the Mahar Conference in Montenegro. What is Mahar and why Montenegro? Mahar is a transliteration of the Hebrew word “Tomorrow” and was the name given to a conference between the Jewish communities in south east Europe four years ago.

As the Jewish community in Montenegro is one of the youngest Jewish communities in the world (there are roughly 400 Jews in Montenegro) they decided to host an annual conference in 2012, to bring together and establish cooperation between the Jewish communities in the Balkans region.

Mahar 2016 was attended by delegates from Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Greece, Romania and Turkey plus guest speakers from Israel, the US and the UK.

Following a welcome address by Montenegrin Jewish Community President Jasha Alfandri, a video message from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was broadcast to delegates.

In a keynote address to follow the President of the Republic of Montenegro, Filip Vujanovic spoke of the anti-fascist past and present of his country, that following the 2012 Act on Mutual Relations, it has now become a beacon of interfaith tolerance and dialogue.

Giving Speech in Montenegro with Shimon Shiffer of Ynetnews
Giving Speech in Montenegro with Shimon Shiffer of Ynetnews

Over the weekend, two World Jewish Congress Vice Presidents, Andras Heisler, President of the Hungarian Jewish Community (who came with 26 delegates) and Mikhail Chlenov, President of the Vaad of Russia spoke as did two Israeli Ambassadors, Ambassador to Montenegro Alona Fisher-Kamm and the Ambassador to Macedonia, Dan Oryan.

Both expressed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs strong support for the initiative. Other speakers included Benny Davidson, who was among the hostages in Entebbe in 1976, Avner Avraham, a former Mossad officer, Ami Ayalon, former Director General of Shin Bet, Dr Yom Tom Savia, the former head of IDF Southern Command, Shimon Shiffer the Israeli journalist, Dr Sonja Tomovic and Dr Zarco Korac who talked about far right political movements in the Former Yugoslavia and Dr Louis Fleishman who talked about the forthcoming US Election and the rise of Trump.

I spoke on the current challenges in Syria and why the UK voted for Brexit in addition to meeting a local youth group to chat about Civil Society in Montenegro.

Meeting members of Civil Society in Montenegro.
Meeting members of Civil Society in Montenegro.

There were over 400 delegates attending and as with all conferences the informal discussions were as interesting as the formal ones.

What I can say is that the Jewish Community in South East Europe is indeed thriving and that Mahar and the future looks bright for the Jewish community.

But as always we must remain ever vigilant and conferences such as Mahar provide an excellent opportunity for the Jewish community to discuss the challenges that lie ahead.


About the Author
Brooks Newmark was MP for Braintree (2005-15) and Minister for Civil Society. Currently he is a Research Associate in the Politics Department at St Antony's College Oxford.
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