“Jews are God’s people like us.”- Aferdita Gyergjani, righteous Albanian

When post-World War II Europe found itself devastated by the loss of its Jewish population, Albania was the only country to boast a larger number of Jewish people than it had housed prior to the Holocaust. Over 2,000 Jews from Albania, Greece, Austria, and Italy were hidden in the homes of Albanian Muslim families throughout the War. Norman Gershman, an American photographer fascinated by these stories, traveled to Albania and Kosovo to chronicle the tales of the righteous Albanians and their devotion to Besa, an Albanian code of honor, which means “to keep the promise.”

In Gershman’s meetings with righteous Albanians, each photo subject referenced his or her Besa-faith and honor-as the source of personal courage in rescuing Jewish people during the Holocaust. As Basri Hasani, a righteous Albanian, describes, “My door is always open to someone in need.” It is the Besa of the Albanian people that Gershman captures in his photographs.

Gershman’s portraits serve as representations of the character of each individual depicted, as well as historical documentation of the Albanian Resistance. Each portrait, which often illuminates the presence of an artifact, is accompanied by a personal statement of the individual’s honorable act. Through subtle portraiture, Gershman is able to communicate the honor, faith, and altruism of Albanian rescuers during the Holocaust.

In connection with the Besa Exhibit, Dr. Elliot Lefkovitz will speak on ‘Righteous Gentiles: The Albanian Experience’ during Kabbalat Shabbat service on Friday, April 20. The wine and cheese reception begins at 5:45 pm.

Dr. Lefkovitz will also lead an in-depth discussion on Righteous Gentiles: What Were the Shared Characteristics of the Righteous Among the Nations and What Motivated Their Rescue Efforts, on Wednesday May 2, 7:30-9:00 pm. The discussion is free for synagogue members; $10.00 for non-members. Register by phone.

If you would like to bring a group or class to view the exhibit, please call the office (847-869-4230 ext. 301)

The exhibit is open, at no charge, during the following hours:

During Pesach (April 6-13), the exhibit will only be open on Saturday April 7, 9:30-Noon.

Sundays-The exhibit is open on select Sundays. Please call the office for times.

Mondays-1:30pm-5:00 pm, 7-9 pm

Tuesdays-1:30-5:00 pm, closed on May 8th

Wednesdays-closed

Thursdays-1:30-6 pm, closed April 26

Fridays-5:45-6:30 pm (closed April 6)

Saturdays-The exhibit is open on select Saturdays. Please call the office for times.

This traveling exhibition is assembled by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum in New York.