On the wall of an inconspicuous building in a side street in Chisinau, the capital of the former Soviet Republic of Moldova, a plaque reads: “Glaziers synagogue — middle of the 19th century.”
This is the only remaining working synagogue in a city which boasted 77 synagogues before 1940.
Chief Rabbi Zalman Abelsky, a follower of the Lubavicher Rebbe, says that very few people, barely more than a minyan, attend Shabbat services, and only 20-25 turn up on major festivals.
This year, once again, city authorities refused to allow the Jewish community to put a Chanukiah in the town centre.
“Last year the Jewish Community wanted to install the Chanukiah near the Chekhov Theatre, in the centre of town, but the mayor responded with irritation and recommended we install it near the monument of the 1941 ghetto. In other words, they believe that our place is in the ghetto,” said Ilya Mariash, the editor of internet news site Jewish Village, published in Russian.
The mayor, Dorin Chirtoaca, is the deputy leader of the Liberal Party, which is part of the centre-right coalition, the Alliance for European Integration. His party leader, Mihai Ghimpu, argues that the mayor has to carry out a balancing act.
“These problems are not simple, they are delicate. The mayor wanted to avoid a row, you can see how the church calls protests outside parliament every so often. You may recall that this row was started by the church,” said Mr Ghimpu.
And indeed, in December 2009, a group of Christian Orthodox believers, led by the priest Anatolie Cibric, removed the Chanukiah which had been installed, with permission, in the city’s central park.
The 2010 Human Rights Report of the US State Department on Moldova reads: “A crowd led by Moldovan Orthodox priest Anatolie Cibric gathered, engaged in antisemitic speech, dismantled and removed the menorah from its base.”
Mr Cibric was unrepentant: “Chanukiah means illumination, we have been illuminated by Christ’s light and we don’t need to be illuminated by other religions. They can install their symbols outside their headquarters, but to install this symbol in a public square named after Saint Stephen the Great it like an invasion”, he said. He also denied any allegation of antisemitism: “It’s like a flag planted on the Reichstag, that’s Chanukiah in the capital of a state. The allegation of antisemitism is a business project of the Jews. I deny this allegation of antisemitism, I don’t protest against Jews, I protest against symbols forced upon us.”