VALONA (Vlor, Vlone, אבילונה), port city in S.W. Albania. The Jewish community is considered one of the most ancient in Europe. Its beginnings are garbed in legend, relating that a Roman ship with a cargo of Jewish slaves from Palestine was blown off course and landed on the Albanian coast. Travelers' narratives mention the presence of Jews in Valona selling salt and pitch and trading with Venice. After the blood libel in Apulia, Italy, in 1290, Apulian Jews settled in Valona. The Jewish situation there improved after the Ottomans captured the city from the Byzantines. Jews from Spain (Castille and Catalonia) and Portugal arrived at the end of the 15th century. Turkish documents show that in 1520 there a total of 945 families in Valona, of which 528 were Jewish. The Jews transformed Valona into a large commercial center trading with Italy, Istanbul, Vienna, and Poland. Practically all commerce in the port was in Jewish hands, and from 1541 to 1637 all the consuls of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) in Valona were Jewish. In 1512, to unite all the Jewish congregations (Byzantine, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese), the renowned rabbi Messer David *Leon (from Italy) was invited to the city. His strict ways, however, alienated the Spanish and Portuguese and he had to leave. The community amalgamated in the mid-17th century under the ḥakham Moses *Albelda.
During the Venetian siege of Valona in their war against the Turks (1688), most of the Jews left the city and escaped to Berat, and later on dispersed to Ioannina, (Greece), Monastir, Bitalya, and Kastoria (Macedonia). The old Torah scroll "Sefer Avilona" – said to be 1,500 years old – was deposited in Salonika, where it was burned by the Nazis. The old synagogue was destroyed by the great fire of 1915.
In 1938 there were 15 Jewish families in Valona. During the Nazi period, the Albanians hid and saved not only all Valona Jews but also the Jewish refugees that reached the city. In 1991 almost all of Valona's Jews settled in Israel.
B. Hrabak, Jevrei in Albaniji od Kraja XVII do Kraja XVIII veka (1971); N. Tudorov, Demografichekoto sustoianie na balkanskia Polnostrov XV–XVI vek (1960); Historia e Shqipertes (1959); I. Burdelez, "Jewish Consuls in Service of the Dubrovnik Republic," in: Diplomacy of the Republic of Dubrovnik (1998).
[Mordechai Arbell (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.