A slice of life

From an address by Rabbi Haddad at the public presentation of a Torah scroll to the Slovenian Jewish community in Ljubljana, earlier this year.

 I would like to go back to the year 1991, the year of independence of the Republic of Slovenia, and share with you a story.

 Among the nations demanding freedom during those confusing times was a small country wedged between Italy, Austria and Croatia, called Slovenia. But when Slovenia made this demand, communist Yugoslavia immediately responded by declaring war. The situation was bleak for the fledgling state. The Yugoslavian army was planning an attack to crush their adversary.

 It so happened that in Toronto, Canada, there lived a Slovenian Jew called Marjan Furlan. He was married to a woman from Israel and one night the Slovenian government contacted him through their Canadian ambassador, hoping that perhaps his wife could secure arms or ammunition through some Israeli connection. He replied that although he could not help them in that area, perhaps he could arrange a blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the most charismatic Jewish leader I have ever known. Having heard that the Rebbe does "miracles," and thinking that nothing short of a miracle would save Slovenia, the Furlans volunteered to ask the Rebbe for help.

   The Furlans decided to travel to the Rebbe in Brooklyn, New York, and deliver two impassioned letters for help; one from the Slovenian ambassador, and the other from the priest of the Slovenian Church in Toronto. The priest included in his plea a request to the Rebbe that he save Slovenia from communism just as Moses saved the Jews from the evil nation of Amalek when they left their imprisonment in Egypt.

 When they finally arrived to New York, it was June 7, 1991, at 4 p.m. Slovenian time. The Rebbe heard the story from Mr. Furlan and accepted the letters. He then gave his blessing to Slovenia that the fighting should cease and that there would be peace and prosperity.  At the very moment the Rebbe was blessing Slovenia, the Yugoslavian army received orders not to attack. The Yugoslav government requested a cease-fire and granted independence to Slovenia. The date was Sunday, June 7, 1991. The Rebbe's blessing saved an entire nation of non-Jews.

 Shortly thereafter, Slovenia printed a booklet in honour of their newly gained statehood. On the last page of the booklet is written. "A Slovenian Jew personally delivered to New York a number of letters from the Slovenian community to the world Jewish leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson, and on the very day that he blessed the Slovenian nation, hostilities ended."  A few months later, the Lubavitcher Rebbe instructed me to come to Trieste, Italy, which is five kilometers away from the Italian border with Slovenia, and today we are all here together.  A lot of things have changed for Slovenian Jewry since 1991.

 A pioneering effort of translation from Hebrew of traditional texts to the Slovenian language has led to the publication of the "Haggadah of Ljubljana"; a copy of this book is being presented to all religious representatives that are here today. Almost four years ago, we celebrated the first community-wide kosher Passover here at the Grand Hotel Union. Since that time, this celebration has become a regular event for the community and for the Grand Hotel Union.

A Torah scroll arrived on January 18 this year to our community. With its new Torah scroll, the Jewish Community of Slovenia is now able to hold the complete religious services for the first time after sixty years. The temporary synagogue that we are currently using is the first in Ljubljana after nearly half a century.
 I am grateful to the Alm-ghty who gave me the opportunity to take part in all of this. I have a debt of gratitude to a lot of people; if I should list them, it would take another hour. To all of them, to those who are here and those who are not, goes all my gratitude and my friendship. To all of you I want to say: the same way you were there for me when I was in need, please remember that I will be there for you whenever you are in need. A thought must also go to my wife and my children; they are my strength and my courage. And, closing this very long speech, I must say to everyone here: we have traveled a long way until this day, but a much longer travel is ahead of us, so let us do it together.

 Rabbi Ariel Haddad, a native of Rome, Italy, is the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Community of Slovenia. He is also the director of the Museum of the Jewish Community of Trieste "Carlo e Vera Wagner" and contract Professor of Hebrew Language at the University of Trieste.