Eboo Patel – a beautiful true story

My friend Eboo Patel leads the Interfaith Youth Core. (Yes, it’s spelled that way on purpose.) He shares this beautiful story from Albania in this month’s newsletter …

There are certain stories that I can’t tell enough times. They speak to the importance of interfaith cooperation so elegantly and powerfully that they practically tell themselves. This month, I want to share one such story with all of you.
Let me start with a remarkable fact: almost every single Jew in Albania, whether they were Albanians or refugees from other nations, survived during the German occupation during World War II. The Jews were protected, through the raids and searches and the times in between, by Albanians who followed the national honor code of Besa: the deepest promise a person can give, the word that is never broken. Under Besa, Albanians took Jews into their homes, treated them as family, fed and clothed them, and sacrificed their own safety and the safety of their families for the sake of their guests.
Let me add another fact that makes this story even more remarkable: Albania was the only European country with a Muslim majority.
Nazlie Alla, whose Albanian Muslim family sheltered Jews from Greece, Slovakia, and Germany, said, “As Muslims we welcomed them all. We welcomed them with bread, salt, and our hearts.”
At the time, Albania had around 800,000 citizens, only about 200 of who were Jewish – though over 2,000 refugee Jews from Greece, Austria and Italy were taken into the homes of Albanians as well.
And it wasn’t just Muslims making sacrifices – the entire population, approximately 70% Bektashi Muslim, 20% Orthodox Christians and 10% Catholic – risked their lives to save Jewish strangers.
The comments of one man particular – Sadik Kalaja, who was twelve years old when his family sheltered a Yugoslav Jewish couple, allowing them to light Sabbath candles in their home – struck me. He said:
“My father gave us an order: If there is a knock on the door, take responsibility.”
As we go through this work together, I hope we carry this ethic above all. It is an ethic of Islam, an ethic of Albanian national tradition, and should be an ethic of the 21st century.
(For these and other stories of righteous Albanian Muslims, see Norman Gershman’s book Besa: Muslims who Saved Jews in World War II)

Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves … whatever their religion, background, identity, class, political affiliation, whatever.