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Impoverished Moldova fears Jewish exodus

    The small Jewish community of Moldova is charting an uncertain path between a revival of Jewish life and the departure of many of its young people.

    At the Moldova Limmud that took place in Chisinau last weekend, 400 local Jews came together to hear lectures, take part in cultural events and socialise — but also to discuss their future.

    Tanya Rabotnikova, a member of the organising committee and one of the leaders of the small community of 2,000 in Belz, said: “It’s getting much more difficult to have any real communal life as most young people are either moving to Chisinau or leaving the country altogether. Fifty of us came to Limmud from Belz because we just can’t get any Jewish culture in our town.”

    Nicolai Agulnicov, a 17-year-old student from Chisinau, is planning to emigrate to Israel next year. “There just aren’t any good jobs or prospects here if you’re not well-connected or have money,” he said. “I don’t believe 50 years from now there will be any Jews left in Moldova.”

    While there is a consensus that many youngsters are seeking to leave what is widely considered the poorest country in Europe, the community president, Alexander Belinkis, whose own daughter has emigrated to Israel, said: “There are still a lot of young people who find good jobs and set up families.”

    Chisinau’s mainly secular community has one active synagogue and two schools, and the community is now trying to raise £3 million to turn one of the old, large shuls into a cultural centre.

    Chisinau is known in Jewish history for a 1903 pogrom. “I wish Jews around the world knew us for the scientists and artists who came from this town and not immediately associate us with the pogrom,” said Irina Shikhova, who runs the Chisinau Jewish Museum.

    While Moldova recently received some rare international attention due to tension with Russia over the disputed region of Transnistria, politics do not seem to be a major consideration in Jews’ decisions over whether or not to leave. At Limmud, there were participants who supported either side. “People here have different views on the political situation,” said Mr Belinkis, “it doesn’t affect the community.”

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