PM Netanyahu and Azerbaijan's president. (Haim Zach/GPO) (Haim Zach/GPO)
Netanyahu Azerbaijan

‘We keep finding more Jews here all the time.’

By Ben Rappaport, United with Israel

The Jewish community in Azerbaijan, a country that borders Iran, is about 20,000-25,000 strong, and consists of the descendants of a community that has existed in the country for some 2,000 years, according to the Chabad emissary to Azerbaijan.

In an interview with Ynet published Monday, Rabbi Shneur Segal, who is also the country’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi, said that “There have always been good relations between the Jewish community and the Azeri people.”

“Despite the majority of the population being Muslim, you don’t feel it on the streets. I walk around with a kippah and traditional attire, and people greet me and say ‘shalom.’

“There is no concern, no antisemitism. I have been living in Azerbaijan myself for 13 years, and there is genuinely a very warm relationship, not only between the Azerbaijani government and the Jewish community and the Jewish people but also between the Azeri people and the Jews and Israel,” he added.

The rabbi said the community is “not small,” and communal life is bustling.

“Based on my estimation, 10-15% of Jews take an active part in community activities and actively engage in Jewish life, and it is growing all the time,” he said.

“We have synagogues scattered throughout the country, we have youth activities, students, and we also have a Chabad school that the Or Avner Foundation established 20 years ago with nearly 200 students.”

“We keep finding more Jews here all the time. Due to the situation between the peoples, assimilation is very high. Sometimes a person with the surname ‘Mustafaev’ can come, and you couldn’t tell they’re Jewish unless they present themselves as one, saying that their grandmother was Jewish.

“Last week, a day before the festival of Shavuot, a young man, 37 years old, entered the synagogue for the first time in his life. His grandmother was Jewish, and when she passed away, he came to seek help with the burial. He arrived during the holiday, and suddenly he exclaimed, ‘Wow, I didn’t know there was Jewish life here.’ In other words, you discover more and more Jews every day.”

Ynet noted a village not far from the Azerbaijani capital of Baku known as Kırmızı Kasaba, or the Red Village, where locals claim 100% of residents are Jewish. In addition to a mikveh and synagogues which are still active, a recently-built museum testifies to the Jewish history of the town. The locals speak Juhuri, which is distinct from from the Azeri and is considered the traditional language of the region’s Mountain Jews.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog this week visited Azerbaijan on a state visit to boost bilateral ties. Following a meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Herzog told reporters, “We are looking at the regional-security structure that is threatened by Iran, a topic we discussed in depth, and we look forward to the development of cooperation between us in many fields such as academia, agriculture and many other fields.”

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