Mongolia has a fondness for Jews

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MOSCOW — There have never been many Jews in Mongolia.

But the land of Genghis Khan now has its own Jewish-interest group.

The first project of the new organization, known as Mongol-Jewish Cooperation, will be launching a Web site devoted to Jewish and Israeli topics, according to Sumati Luvsandendev, the group's leader.

"I want to start an information portal where Mongolian citizens could find information on Jews and Israel in the Mongolian language," he said in a telephone interview from Ulan Bator, Mongolia's capital city.

One Jewish organization has touted the creation of the new group as a step toward a full-fledged Jewish community in Mongolia.

"Jewish communities are being revived even in those countries where no Jew seems to have ever set foot," Alexander Mashkevich, president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, said in a statement released in Moscow earlier this month.

"The Jews of Mongolia have their own, though still little-known, history," Mashkevich said.

Mikhail Chlenov, general secretary of the EAJC, recalled that when he first met Sumati Luvsandendev at the EAJC's founding congress last spring, Sumati — most Mongolians use only their first name — believed he was the only Jew in his country. When they spoke again a few months later, Sumati told him he had found other Jews living in Mongolia.

Sumati said there are too few Jews in his country to call the Jewish presence in Mongolia a Jewish community.

"There are enough fingers on two hands to count all Jews who live here," he says.

According to historical records, a small community of mainly Ashkenazi Jews who lived in Urga, as Mongolia's main city was then known, fell victim to Russian anti-Bolshevik forces that retreated into Mongolia in the early 1920s following a defeat in Central Asia.

Throughout Mongolia's Communist history, Jews were a rarity — as was anti-Semitism.

After the collapse of Communism in Mongolia, a number of Mongolians sought better economic opportunities abroad, and some made it to Israel, taking advantage of a visa-free agreement between the two countries.