In the State of Israel, we tend to take the fact that everyone is Jewish for granted. However, in the Diaspora, the Jewish community is suffering from grave antisemitic violence. In recent days in the United States, there was a rally against antisemitism, after an individual who stole a school bus in Livingston left behind a journal with antisemitic threats. Earlier this week, residents of Georgia woke up to witness a bunch of fliers with antisemitic tropes planted in front of their homes. Around the same period of time, Princeton University hosted a guest speaker who compared Israelis to Nazis.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, of a trend that has been going on for quite some time. Namely, America is no longer the Golden Medina for Jews. Rather, increasingly, it is just like anywhere else in Europe when it comes to antisemitism. I know because I used to live in America. I saw and felt how people used to look down at me for being a Jewish-Israeli. And I am not the only foreign Jew who visited America and had this experience.
Rabbi Zamir Isayev, the head of the Georgian Jewish community in Azerbaijan, reported the following after visiting the United States: “I was simply shocked at how antisemitism has soared within the country. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the number of Americans who believe in antisemitic tropes have spiked over the past three years. In fact, the ADL reported that one in five Americans believe in at least one antisemitic trope. Several years ago, it was only one in nine Americans who believed in at least one antisemitic trope.”
However, he claims that there is another country off the radar screen of most Israelis, where Jews do not suffer from this grave threat: “While antisemitism is on the ascent to the level that a Jewish professor in Oregon was fired for reporting antisemitic remarks made by the university’s dean, the environment that I live in within Azerbaijan is very different from what Jews experience in the United States.”
“For starters, there is no antisemitism in Azerbaijan,” he added. “I wear a kippa and tallit as a rabbi, and I am free to walk around the streets of Baku without being harassed. It is not like that in New York City, sadly. Secondly, Jews feel so secure in Azerbaijan that they do not lock up the synagogues at night. No other Jewish community in the world feels that secure.”
According to him, “The Azerbaijani Jewish community, numbering 30,000 souls, is very multicultural and has ancient roots. The Mountain Jews have been living in the region since antiquity. The Mountain Jews claim that they originate in ancient Babylon and were joined by remnants of the Persian Empire. They speak Juhari, which is a dialect of Judeo-Persian similar to Yiddish.”
“Aside from them, the Azerbaijani Jewish community has a Georgian and Ashkenazi Jewish community,” Isayev noted. “Each of these communities has its own synagogue. We have a thriving Jewish community in Guba, otherwise known as Red Village and also in Baku. There are other Jewish communities as well scattered across Azerbaijan. We all feel at home here.”
According to the respectable rabbi, “Throughout history, Azerbaijan has been a refuge for the Jewish people. There were many Jews who fled from the persecution of Nadir Shah in the Safavid Empire, the Russian Tzar’s pogroms, the Holocaust and more recently, from the war in Ukraine and came to Azerbaijan, where they found for themselves a safe refuge. Today’s Azerbaijan has accepted the Jewish community with open arms.”
In conclusion, the respectable rabbi noted, “Many of the synagogues that the Soviets shut down have been restored and the local Jewish community recently opened up a Mountain Jewish Museum, where the rich history and culture of the Mountain Jewish community is displayed for all to see. I invite everyone to come to Azerbaijan and to explore the rich Jewish life that we have here, where we live in peaceful harmony beside our Muslim neighbors in an atmosphere free of anti-Semitism.”
On February 14, 2022, Israel Academia Monitor will be hosting an event titled “Azerbaijan, not what you think” at the Waldman House in Even Yehuda at 8:30pm in the evening. In this talk, speakers will discuss the lack of antisemitism in Azerbaijan and how Azerbaijani multi-culturalism is the antidote for antisemitism.