As part of our trip, we decided to divide up a few topics that we could teach each other about. My topic was Judaism and today we had a chance to visit the only synagogue in Serbia. The history of Judaism in Serbia is a controversial one. In the 15th century, the Jewish population grew rapidly due to people fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. They became heavily involved in the trade business in the Ottoman Empire and once Serbia gained their independence, one of the first acts of King Petar the first was to build the synagogue in Belgrade. After that, there was a waxing and waining of support based on the current ruler. In WWII, Germany invaded Yugoslavia (which included Serbia) and killed about 83% of the Jewish population, including 14,500 of the 16,000 Serbian Jews. After WWII and the Yugoslav wars, most of the Jewish population chose to immigrate to Israel and the U.S. Currently, only about 1,200 Jews live in Serbia, most of them residing in Belgrade and Novi Sad. Also, the rebirth of Serbian nationalism in the past few years has seen an increase in the counts of anti-sematism against the Jews.
So the current situation for the Jews is one of general dislike amongst the Serbian population. However, it was a good experience for us to get to visit the synagogue and discuss the history. The synagogue was very nice, and out of respect for their religion, the men wore yamakas while inside. Overall, it was just another great day in Serbia!