Jewish leaders in Sarajevo here recently noticed something that they say they hadn’t seen much of in years: babies.
“We are a small community, so the challenge of maintaining the community is bigger than for the bigger communities that exist,” said Elma Softic-Kaunitz of Sarajevo’s Jewish community. “But I need to say with pride that during the last year — in 2014 — we’ve had 10 newborns in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which hasn’t happened in the last 10 years.”
The baby boom, community leaders say, is largely coming from young people who are returning to Sarajevo, having been sent away as children during the war in the early 1990s. They’ve returned to their homeland during a time of peace and are starting their own families.
She added, “Our challenge is that these little babies — that we provide them the opportunity or possibility to have a Jewish life here. Our challenge is that the community continues to grow.”
At the end of World War I, Sarajevo was home to more than 12,000 Jews, who made up one-fifth of the city’s population. Nearly all of them were murdered during the Holocaust. In the 1970s, there were about 1,000 members of the community. When war came to Sarajevo again in 1992, hundreds fled for Israel, Spain and other countries.
The Jewish community regularly puts on cultural events, symposiums and exhibitions, though more Gentiles attend than Jews. Only one of Sarajevo’s six synagogues is currently used as a place of worship, and one has been turned into a museum. There is a choir that sings traditional songs, Sunday school, youth clubs and a Jewish newspaper.