Slovenian Jews get a Passover gift: a new rabbi and Torah

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Anyone who has been to a Passover Seder knows the chant of praise called "Dayenu."

Included in the Haggadah, the song recounts, one by one, the steps in the Hebrew passage to freedom from slavery in Egypt.

After each verse comes the refrain "Dayenu" — "It would have been enough for us" — sung over and over in a grateful and gratifying crescendo.

This year, Slovenian Jews were joined in early March by government officials, diplomats and local Christian and Muslim leaders in responding "Dayenu" to a new version of the chant.

Step by step, this version traced the development of the Slovenian Jewish community since their country, once a region of the former Yugoslavia, became independent in 1991. The voices became louder and louder with each verse.

"If we had become independent but did not live in peace, Dayenu. If we lived in peace but had not become democratic, Dayenu.

"If we had become democratic but had not created a Jewish community, Dayenu. If we had created a Jewish community but had not returned to our sources, Dayenu. If we had returned to our sources but not made them our own, Dayenu."

The occasion was a ceremony formally installing Ariel Haddad as chief rabbi of Slovenia and welcoming a Torah scroll for the community's new synagogue — the first Torah and synagogue in Slovenia since the Holocaust and the first in the capital, Ljubljana, since Jews were expelled from the city in 1515.

The celebration marked a milestone in the development of a community that half a dozen years ago was little more than a handful of scattered individuals.

"We are a small community, but Jewish life is beginning here as we speak," community president Andrej Kozar Beck said. "This is an important moment for the Jewish community and an important moment for Slovenia as a whole."

The inauguration ceremony was held in a hotel ballroom, as the new synagogue — a transformed suite of rooms in the office block housing the Jewish community's office — would have been too small.

The new synagogue has a modern wooden ark and sculptural representations of the Western Wall and the Star of David. It will serve as a temporary prayer room until permanent premises can be found.

Like Beck, Haddad and other Jewish community members stressed that the inauguration ceremony had a significance that transcended Jewish revival.

"We invited representatives of all the religious communities," Haddad said. "Having them all standing here together was a statement — and an important one — that needs no other commentary."

A Rome-born Lubavitch rabbi, Haddad is the director of the Jewish Museum in Trieste, Italy, about an hour's drive from Ljubljana.

For the past four years he has been making monthly visits to Slovenia. Now he plans to come weekly, he said, and is looking for an apartment so that his wife and five children can spend each Shabbat in Ljubljana with him.

The local Muslim imam, Catholic archbishop and Lutheran leader looked on as Haddad chanted the Shehechiyanu, donned a tallit and accepted his formal post.

Local Jews said the interfaith participation was especially significant, since the Catholic and Muslim communities recently had been at odds over establishment of a mosque in Ljubljana.

Haddad used his inaugural address to affirm tolerance and coexistence.

Jews, he said, live in "a world that we share with other nations, other cultures, other languages, and other faiths.

"The word I have just uttered — 'other' — is the key word to understand what is happening today," he said. "Today, in this place, we are putting together people, languages and cultures that are at the same time 'the same' and 'other' to each other."