Sheryl Olitzky, Founder and Executive Director of Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, wrote an article for Huffington Post about their trip to the Balkans with MEJDI Tours this past January! In the article, Sheryl says,

We met many people during our trip to the Balkans. One thing was clear: our character–the “stuff” out of which we are made–is truly tested not when things are calm and the world seems peaceful. It is tested when there is no time to think. And we are not called to speak. Rather we are called to act. This trip will help all of us navigate our future. It helped us to see with our minds and our hearts. Only then will we be able to learn from the past and help shape a bright future.

Click here to read the article

The New Jersey Jewish News recently released an article about our trip to Albania and Bosnia with Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom this past January. In the article, it states –

“Albania was the only country in Europe where the number of Jews increased during the Holocaust,” said Sheryl Olitzky of North Brunswick, national executive director and cofounder of Salaam Shalom. “There were only 200 Jews there before the war, but 4,000 after it ended.”

In mostly Muslim Albania, Jewish refugees enjoyed the hospitality of a country that has the distinction of never turning over to the Nazis a single Jew lucky enough to cross its borders during the Shoa.

Although most of those Jews immigrated to Israel after the war as communism began to take hold, about 70 Jews remain, said Olitzky. Her husband, Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, national director of Big Tent Judaism, conducted what community members said was the first Shabbat service there in decades.

Olitzky said the trip participants “learned so much about hate toward the other and what can be done to stand up against that hate. It was beyond amazing.”

Click here to read the article

Rabbi Kerry Olitzky joined our Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom Building Bridges to Albania and Bosnia trip. He wrote an article about his experience on Big Tent Judiasm. He shared:

I raised this question again and again in both countries: “What about intermarriage, particularly with those in the Jewish community?” In both cases, and,
of course, even more strongly in Albania, they affirmed intermarriage as part of the fabric of their society which strengthened them rather than undermined their community. There were difficulties, to be sure. And clergy had to find ways to accommodate couplesand their children, but all those we met were committed to doing so. And that seemed to be the most important aspect of itthey were all committed to finding a way.

You can read the full article here

Today’s blog post comes from Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom Building Bridges to Albania and Bosnia traveler Inas Younis…

Today we departed from the beautiful city of Sarajevo , but not before we were treated to another spectacular day filled with quotable guests and five star meals. After we congregated for breakfast we headed to the conference room to meet with the director of women’s health and breast cancer awareness pioneer, Nela. Her motto; ” you can only break taboos with the facts.” More than just conquering taboos, Nila has managed to bring Bosnians, Croats, Serbs and other minorities together to fight our common enemy of cancer.

Following our introduction to Nila and her work, we had the privilege of meeting the recently retired grand Mufti of Bosnia and his lovely wife , who gave us an honest heart wrenching account of the horrors of war. The mufti enlightened us on the subject of forgiveness, hope, and cooperation. When asked what he believed would be the future of Islam, he admits to feeling that Muslims are undergoing a crisis of religious leadership. Although Muslims are going through a collective catharsis, he feels encouraged by initiatives like the Sisterhood.

Before departure we were hosted by Jakob Finci to a tour the only active synagogue in Sarajevo. Mr. Finci is known as the saviour of Sarajevo. It was Finci’s charity, Benevolencija, that delivered humanitarian relief on a non-sectarian basis. Benevolencija found a way to get people out of the dangerous war zone by organising mixed convoys of Muslim, Croat and Serb families. He shared many profound words that deserve repeating , but the one that best captures his “Roberto Benini” spirit was this opening line. “If you speak three languages you are trilingual. If you speak two, you are bilingual, if you only speak one, you are an American.” We will miss Sarajevo, as we head out to south to Albania. Thanks to Mr. Finci we are leaving The city of Sarajevo with one more language to our credit; The language of love.

 

Today’s blog post comes from MEJDI Travel Planner Kelly, who is on the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom Building Bridges trip to Albania and Bosnia…

 

We started our day at the largest Mosque in the Balkans, the Bey Mosque. The ottoman architecture was exquisite and some of our group took the opportunity to pray. One of our group members said he felt he wanted to say a prayer for all those who perished in the war. It was a beautiful gesture and the Bosnians with us were quite moved by it.

 

There is no conflict that can be simplified to a sound byte or a headline and that is specifically true for the conflict in Bosnia. Today we had the honor of meeting with General Jovan Divjak, a Serb who was the General in the Bosnian Army. General Divjak is a hero in Bosnia and he talked to our group about how he made the choice to fight for Bosnia. General Divjak also started a foundation for children who were orphaned or other deeply affected by the war. He told our group that he saw the effect of the Second World War on Jewish children and knew that these children of Bosnia would need all kinds of financial and psychosocial support, which he continues to give through his foundation today.

 

General Divjak took the group to the Old Jewish Cemetery which was the front line during the war. Literally Serbs on one side and Bosnians on the other. We learned about the siege from a military point of view and were able to see the burial sites of Bosnian Jews from as far back as the 1400’s. At the center of the cemetery stands a memorial to the Bosnian Jews killed in WWII.