7 November 2022

A Busy October at the Jewish Community of Moldova

After the rest and reflection of the holiday season, the Jewish Community of the Republic of Moldova (JCM) sprung into action this October with three different events. They echo three different facets of our work: dialogue with international Jewish communities, Holocaust commemoration, and fighting against antisemitism.

Dialogue with Israel

Events kick-started on 25th October with an exhibition and reception marking both thirty years of diplomatic relations between the State of Israel and Republic of Moldova and twenty-five years of the Israeli Cultural Center in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau. 

The exhibition entitled Jerusalem: Youth of the Eternal City featured work by a range of Israeli photographers. Attendees, which included Moldovan government officials, representatives from diplomatic missions, members of Jewish organizations, religious leaders and people working in NGOs, were able to admire photos of Jerusalem while they attended a diplomatic reception. 

Rejecting the podium for an off-the-cuff speech from the floor, Ambassador of the State of Israel, HE Joel Lion, spoke of ever-warming Moldovan and Israeli friendship; while Moldovan Prime Minister HE Natalia Gavrilita paid tribute to Israel’s support politically, economically and culturally. Both Ambassador Lion and Prime Minister Gavirilita took time to thank the Jewish Community of Moldova for its work reviving Jewish life and traditions in Moldova. 

Alexander Bilinkis, President of the Jewish Community of Moldova, mentioned how Israeli cooperation is a driving force in efforts to preserve Jewish cultural heritage in Moldova and expressed hope for this to continue. The final speech was given by Mark Dovev, regional director of “Nativ” in Moldova, Ukraine and Eastern Europe, who spoke of how “agreements are signed by politicians, but the success of these agreements depends on ordinary people. It depends on their desire to know each other, to get acquainted with each other’s history and culture.”

Building Bridges through Holocaust commemoration

An example of building bridges between cultures was on show the following day at a High-Level Roundtable held in Chisinau’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs and European Integration (MFAEI). Supported by the Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Organization for Safety and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and organized by the MFAEI and the JCM, the high level event brought participants from across Europe, North America and Israel.

Entitled ‘Remembering the Holocaust: learning from the past for a just future’, the roundtable explored legacies of the Holocaust in education, cultural heritage projects and legal frameworks in Moldova with participants pointing to comparative case studies in Israel, the UK, the USA and Romania. 

HE Ambassador Lion, Mr Bilinkis, Deputy Director of the OSCE Mission in Moldova, Mr Antti Karttuten, and HE Vitalie Rusu, the Ambassador at Large, set the tone for the event by drawing attention to the three key intersecting areas of education, cultural heritage and commemoration, and legal frameworks to prevent Holocaust denial and counteract antisemitism. 

For Mr Bilinkis, “the three thematic sessions of the roundtable: culture, education and legislation are the pillars of JCM’s work.’ But, Mr Bilinkis warned, “lack of progress in cultural and educational fields can, unfortunately, lead to a backsliding in the legal provisions and therefore benefit those who seek to deny the horrors of the Holocaust.”

As HE Ambassador Lion eloquently put it, “when we talk about commemoration, we are also talking about restoring justice. If, for example, there was a Jewish hospital in a city then the name of this hospital has to be restored so that people know that it was a Jewish institution. And only after doing that, can we discuss further issues. Recognition is the first step. Just like in psychology, you have to admit that something has happened. By acknowledging the problem, a solution can be found more quickly.” 

The Ambassador concluded his speech by urging those gathered to reflect on how “’Never again” may sound good yet “actions is what is needed”.

The keynote speakers of the event, the Minister of Culture, Sergui Prodan, Dr Ovidiu Creanga from the Claims Conference, Dr Peter Cherry from the World Jewish Congress, Professor Nitza Davidovitch from Ariel University’s Center for Genocide Research, Corina Lungu from the Ministry of Education and Research, Dragos Hotea from the Romanian Foreign Ministry, Ian Feldman, President of the Council for Preventing and Eliminating Discrimination and Ensuring Equality, and Stela Braniste from the Ministry of Justice reflected on all the three areas covered by the agenda of the event.

The Jewish Community of Moldova’s Director, Dr Aliona Grossu, noted in her concluding remarks that the event had shown plentiful ideas and good intentions, but now it is important to work in order to ensure that our aims are achieved. 

It was fitting that such discussions were followed by a guided tour of sites of Jewish interest and importance in Chisinau. Attended by diplomats and government officials, particular attention was given to the “Jewish Chisinau” sites in the historical center of the city.

Fighting antisemitism 

After spending a day exploring the Jewish past and how to learn from it, the week was rounded off by the Jewish Community of Moldova’s involvement in a conference on antisemitism prevention and counteracting. 

About 40 participants, including members of the Jewish Community and professionals working in policing, security and law enforcement, participated in the seminar which addressed tackling hate speech and hate crimes, as well as acts of discrimination against Jews. 

The event was organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) as part of their Words into Action project. The partners that organized and participated in the event were the OSCE, World Jewish Congress, European Commission as well as the Ministry of Interior, Procecution and the  Ministry of Justice.

The event was moderated by Tome Shekerdjiev, Project Officer of OSCE, and featured contributions from ODIHR’s First Deputy Director Kateryna Ryabiko, Head of the European Deegation in Moldova, HE Janis Mazheiks, Deputy Head of the OSCE Mission in Moldova, Antti Karttunen, Coordinator of the European Commission on the prevention and tackling of antisemitism and development of Jewish life, Katharina von Schnurbein, President of the Jewish Community of Moldova, Alexander Bilinkis, OSCE’s Adviser on Combatting antisemitism,  Mikolaj Wrzecionkowski, European Commission’s Policy Advisor, Wester Meijdam, Senior Consultant of the World Jewish Congress, Mike Wein and Head of National Policy on Hate Crimes of National Police Chiefs Council of Great Britain, Paul Giannasi.

As Mr Bilinkis noted in his opening remarks, unfortunately today many antisemitic crimes remain without proper investigation and punishment. According to Mr Bilinkis, only with active collaboration between law-enforcement bodies, the Prosecutor’s Office, the justice system and the civil society can Moldova effectively counteract xenophobia: “Together we must develop a program of training, awareness-raising, as well as continuous capacity building for all members of this network”.

Going forward, Alexander Bilinkis emphasized that, by the end of the year, the organization intends to sign a bilateral memorandum of cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. 

“The Criminal Code was amended so that the Holocaust denial and veneration of Nazi criminals is prosecuted by law. But if we don’t inform and train representatives of each link in the system, the laws will remain only on paper and our efforts will be ineffective.”, he mentioned.

The event also included a talk by Dr Grossu, CEO of the Jewish Community, that contextualized hate crimes within the history of antisemitism in Moldova and a group activity where law enforcement professional worked on case studies with members of the Jewish Community in Moldova.

‘A just future’

The events of the past month show that the Jewish Community of Moldova is a committed organization. However, time is not on our side. 

As Dr Creanga mentioned in his speech at the Roundtable, many of those who witnessed or suffered during the Holocaust are now sadly at the age where they may not be with us for much longer. 

With this in mind, the fight to ensure the Holocaust receives the commemoration it deserves and the work on having a ‘just future’ for all only intensifies.