Thank You Albania!

SPECIAL NOTICE: As faithful readers of this israelstreet blog know, your humble servant is in transit to his other home in the United States (California) today. Please note that as of tomorrow, posts will generally appear at about 10 am PST. There is no “UPDATE” section today.


It will undoubtedly come as a surprise to you, dear readers, to discover that during this summer and Fall, your humble servant spent considerable time in two European countries–Albania and the Ukraine. For this reason, the visits of the Albanian Prime Minister and Ukrainian President to Israel in the past two weeks have been especially gratifying.

Without going into any detail about what I was doing in either place, I would like to give you some brief observations I had of Albania in early September.

Albania is a country still trying to break out of its long national nightmare of Hoxha-imposed isolation. Proper infrastructure (water supply, electrical grids, and roads) is sorely lacking in some areas–especially in the rural areas I visited. When one wakes up in the morning, the electricity or the water or both might not be working, often for extended periods of time. Yet in those same rural areas, men and women are fashionably dressed and virtually any food product–fresh or pre-packaged is available at the corner grocery store or local supermarket.

One of many fruit and vegetable stalls in the city where your humble servant spent most of his time in Albania. Note the price (100) $1 per kilo.

The cafes are full from opening to closing each day and (at a conversion rate of 100 Albanian leke to 1 dollar), a cup of coffee will run a customer about $1.25; a good meal at a restaurant will be less than $7. With prices such as these, and with Albania’s lovely scenery, it is no surprise that Lonely Planet listed the country as the number 1 destination in the world this year.

Beautiful scenery frames this downtown scene in southern Albania.

But without a doubt, Albania’s most precious resource is its people. Unfailingly friendly and hospitable, I felt like I got to know most of the people in the town where I spent most of my time. In cafes and homes, I talked a lot of politics–especially about Jews and Israel.¬† Over and over, I heard the same stories proudly recounted about how “not one Albanian Jew” was taken by the Nazis during World War II, and that the passport that Albert Einstein used to escape Europe was issued by the Albanian government.

And all the Albanians I talked to were very supportive of Israel–not that they are unsupportive of the Palestinians. But time after time, Albanians expressed their admiration for what Israel has achieved and the way Israel defends itself.

Two final stories: on our last night in Albania, we were sitting in a lovely second-floor rooftop, open-air restaurant in Sarande–down on Albania’s Aegean coast. As we were trying to decide what to order, the head waiter came over to take our order and heard us speaking Hebrew. Much to our surprise, he started speaking Hebrew to us. And how did he know Hebrew? Not because he was Jewish, but because it turned out that the main Israeli representative in Albania often eats in the same restaurant, and he had just picked it up. Throughout the meal, he continually came over and chatted with us–asking us thoughtful questions about Israel. We left having made a new friend.

The next morning as we were sitting in a cafe across the street from the ferry building in Sarande waiting for our boat to Corfu, I was trying to get a wireless connection and noticed the ferry ticket office signal on my computer as an available connection. Unfortunately, a security code was required. The cafe owner heard my conversation in English about this–and immediately came over to help–picking up the phone and calling the office for the code which he amazingly proceeded to get.

But the code didn’t work. By this time seven other “regulars” in the cafe had heard of my predicament and all were anxious for me to make a connection. After repeated failures and more phone calls, one of these “strangers” just got up, walked across the street, and came back with a new code. Seconds later, I was on–and had become friends with everyone in the cafe.

A beautiful sunset in Sarande

So this week in Jerusalem when I heard Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, a Muslim, I was gratified but not too surprised.

Berisha and Netanyahu in Jerusalem

Strongly supportive of Israel during the recent session of the United Nations General Assembly and not supportive of the attempt of the Palestinians to gain U.N. membership, Berisha accused the Palestinians¬† of trying to “sabotage the peace process.”

Berisha went on to call Iran the “biggest threat to peace in the Middle East and in the entire world” and declare that the Iranian government and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are “the new Nazis.” He even went so far to promise that Albania, as a member of NATO, would join any military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

For your support of Israel, and for your personal hospitality to your humble servant, thank you Albania!

*This day in Israeli history will return on Monday.

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