Earlier this year, the State of Israel, working together with the Holocaust Fund of the Jews from Macedonia, invited the Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra to perform in Tel-Aviv in celebration of the 20 years of close ties between the Republic of Macedonia and the State of Israel. A touching ceremony, the orchestra performed songs in Hebrew, Ladino, and Yiddish to commemorate a long-standing history and relationship between the states and two peoples.
This relationship has now found its way on school campuses in the United States. On April 15, 2015 at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, a Macedonian and Israeli student group met together in a celebration that re-affirmed and renewed this relationship on the college campus.
“It is unfortunate that many people are not aware of how strong of an ally Israel has in Macedonia, but also how Macedonia also faces a situation where it has to defend its right to exist under its chosen name. These are facts that need to be brought to the public,” said Mario Hristovski, president of the Macedonian-American Student Organization, and United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) Generation M U.S. Chair.
Beginning with a moment of silence for the six million Jews killed during WWII, the evening proceeded with opening remarks by the Consulate General of Macedonia in Detroit, Elena Zarkovska, who discussed how a relatively young diplomatic relationship has been so successful. UMD Macedonian Companion Donald Sazdanoff and Israel Deputy Consul General Elad Strohmayer then spoke on the importance and reason of this strong Israeli-Macedonian relationship. The message from both sides resonated – a shared history and a commitment to the ideals of life, liberty, and peace, brings these two people together.
The fact that the ceremony was on Holocaust Remembrance Day made the evening especially poignant for the audience.
Tomer Elias of the Buckeyes for Israel Club said, “In just a few hours with sundown the Holocaust day of remembrance begins, and I am proud to stand here as an Israeli and as part of the future of this lasting relationship between Jews and Macedonians.”
The significance of this also spoke to Macedonians in the audience. Third year International Studies student and Macedonian-American Ana Gorgovska also found the ceremony particularly meaningful.
“My grandparents are in Yad Vashem for being one of three families in Macedonia to harbor Jews during World War II, so this whole event really spoke to me,” she said. Her homeland, being one of the only remaining countries in Europe where Jews deny any presence of anti-Semitism, also houses the fourth largest Holocaust memorial center in the world. For a country with only 200 Jews, this may seem odd. However, looking at the history of Jews in Macedonia, one can see the integral part of Jews in Macedonian history.
Historically, Macedonians and Jews have had a close relationship dating back to antiquity. “Since the days of Alexander the Great, Macedonians have held Jewish people with high regard”, said Sazdanoff in his opening remarks. A large portion of Jews then moved to Macedonia in the 1490s after their expulsion from Spain. Easily integrating into society, they would then go on to fight alongside Macedonians to liberate Macedonia during both the Ottoman and World War II periods. It was on March 11, 1943 that the fascist regime in Bulgaria, who occupied Macedonia at the time, deported 98% of Macedonian Jews to Treblinka. To date, Bulgaria denies this fact and instead continues to showcase how it protected the Jews within its territory from deportation.
Since reclaiming independent statehood, Macedonia and Israel have both taken initiatives to reinforce a historically beneficial relationship. Besides the Holocaust Memorial in Skopje, Macedonia also went on to become one of the few countries to resolve Jewish property claims. Israel accordingly has responded by formally recognizing Macedonia under its constitutional name, while also making contributions to the Macedonian military. Judaism is an official religion in the Macedonian Constitution. The Deputy Consul General Strohmayer stated, “Israel recognizes Macedonia’s commitment to regional stability and a lasting peace, and that is why we have taken the steps to recognize it under its constitutional name.”
Both speakers touched upon not only their countries’ commitment for peace, but also on the duty of Macedonian and Jewish youth. As stated in the speeches, Jews and Macedonians have the duty to visit their respective countries to develop a relationship with them to be able to constructively and effectively represent them back in the United States.