The life of Jews in Mostar today is anything but easy. For years, this minority population living in the city on the Neretva River has been trying to improve their position in society and preserve the rich heritage of the Jewish culture in the region.
Jews have lived in Mostar since the 16th century when Daniel Rodriquez became the city’s first Jewish resident. Monuments erected in the Jewish cemetery show that the number of Jews has increased significantly since that time. It was during the Austro-Hungarian occupation that the first Jews arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The so-called Sephardi Jews entered the country first followed by the Ashkenazi Jews. Shortly thereafter, members of both groups settled in the Mostar region.
Today, there are around 30 Bosnian Jewish citizens residing in Mostar, and although they are seemingly few in number, they bring the city’s Jewish district to life when they come together for the holidays. In addition, all 30 of these citizens are members of the Jewish Municipality of Mostar, an organization dedicated to preserving Jewish culture and heritage by organizing meetings, celebrating the Jewish holidays, hosting Jewish-themed exhibitions, and participating in lectures and events together with other religious communities.
“The Jews of Mostar have left a significant mark on the city’s history. For example, the city’s first soccer ball was acquired by Mr. Lihner, its first fashion designer was Jewish, and the first woman to drive a car was Jewish. Our cemetery has also been designated as a national monument,” said Sarah Romano-Vujinović, the secretary of the Jewish Municipality of Mostar, adding that the organization is financially supported by donations from the Jewish World Organization, a small portion of funds from the City of Mostar, and voluntary contributions.
According to Romano-Vujinović, although the City of Mostar gives the Jewish Municipality 3,000 BAM per year, the yearly rent for the organization’s premises alone amounts to 3,600 BAM. She also points out that although they have had discussions with city administrators about providing support for some of their projects, none have been approved as of yet.
There was a synagogue in Mostar as early as 1889. A barn once used for hay stacking was refurbished to create the synagogue, which served as a common area where both the Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews would gather representing the first blended Jewish community of its kind in all of Europe.
The need to construct a larger facility, however, soon emerged and, thus, a Construction Committee was established. From the funds collected, land was purchased in Mostar’s Brankovac neighborhood, the construction of the new synagogue was approved, and building was completed in 1904. However, during the Second World War the synagogue was demolished and, while still under the ownership of the Jewish Municipality of Mostar, was later rebuilt as a Puppet Theater. In 1952, the Jewish Municipality officially donated the former synagogue to the City of Mostar and that same year, the city again refurbished it and upgraded two of its wings. Then, in 1966, the City approved a new location and the project plans to build a new synagogue inside the Jewish Cultural Center, which is, in fact, still waiting for the necessary permits to continue construction after the initial stone foundation was laid in 2001.
“As a city, we have contributed a lot towards the building of the Jewish Cultural Center, including working to fulfill the necessary documentation requirements. Unfortunately, we have not yet obtained a construction permit from the Federal Ministry of Spatial Planning and Environment, so we have been unable to start construction. However, if the Jewish Community is able to acquire this approval, we will contribute funds from the City of Mostar’s budget,” a Mostar city administrator explained.
The Jewish Municipality of Mostar says that the reason for the delay in resolving this problem lies in politics and it’s anyone’s guess how long the process will take. Many young Jews have moved away, and their older-generation family members are now the only bearers of the Jewish culture that remain. All that can be done now is to wait and to hope that this important part of BiH culture and heritage will be recognized in time and that members of the Jewish Municipality of Mostar will have the strength to continue their struggle to survive.
This publication has been selected as part of the Srđan Aleksić Youth Competition, a regional storytelling competition that challenges youth to actively engage with their own communities to discover, document, and share stories of moral courage, interethnic cooperation, and positive social change. The competition is a primary component of the Post-Conflict Research Center’s award-winning Ordinary Heroes Peacebuilding Program, which utilizes international stories of rescuer behavior and moral courage to promote interethnic understanding and peace among the citizens of the Western Balkans.