The Last Village of the Mountain Jews

Dec. 27 2018

Located not far from the capital city of Baku in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, the town of Qirmizi has somewhere between two and three thousand residents—all of whom are Jews. Once there were more such towns in Transcaucasia, populated by the Mountain Jews, who have distinct traditions and their own language, known as Judeo-Tat or Juhuru, that is closely related to Persian but draws heavily on Hebrew. Yoav Keren describes his recent visit there:

Three bridges separate Qirmizi [from the nearby Gentile town] Quba. One of them, which is closed to vehicles, is known as “the love bridge.” . . . This is where single Jewish men and women come to meet a match. “Girls walk the bridge with their mothers,” [our tour guide] explains, “while the guys look on from the banks. If a guy sees a girl he likes, his parents will approach her parents and ask for her hand.” . . . Around the corner from the bridge is the city’s wedding venue—a pillared hall that houses weddings, bar mitzvahs, and circumcisions. There’s a huge photo of the Western Wall inside. . . .

Azerbaijan is a Shiite Muslim country, and Azeris also make up 25 percent of the population of nearby Iran. But the people [of Azerbaijan] love Israel, and not only because it buys their oil and sells them weapons (including the Iron Dome missile-defense systems, which are lined up along the Azeri border with Armenia). The local Jews are respected and treated with tolerance. In central Baku, Jews wearing kippot walk around undisturbed—not something you would see in Paris or other European cities nowadays.

During Soviet times, there were eleven synagogues in Qirmizi, but they weren’t in use—Communism was the only religion. . . . Today there are only two synagogues left in in the town, but they are both active.

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More about: Azerbaijan, Jewish marriage, Jewish World, Mountain Jews, Soviet Jewry

 

At the UN, Nikki Haley Told the Truth about Israel—and the World Didn’t Burn Down

April 22 2019

Although Nikki Haley had never been to Israel when she took the position of American ambassador to the UN, and had no prior foreign-policy experience, she distinguished herself as one of the most capable and vigorous defenders of the Jewish state ever to hold the position. Jon Lerner, who served as Haley’s deputy during her ambassadorship, sees the key to her success—regarding both Israel and many other matters—in her refusal to abide by the polite fictions that the institution holds sacred:

Myths are sometimes assets in international relations. The fiction that Taiwan is not an independent country, for example, allows [the U.S.] to sustain [its] relationship with China. In other cases, however, myths can create serious problems. On Israel–Palestinian issues, the Trump administration was determined to test some mythical propositions that many had come to take for granted, and, in some cases, to refute them. Haley’s prominence at the UN arose in large part from a conscious choice to reject myths that had pervaded diplomacy on Israel–Palestinian issues for decades. . . .

[For instance], U.S. presidents were intimidated by the argument that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would trigger violent explosions throughout the Muslim world. President Trump and key colleagues doubted this, and they turned out to be right. Violent reaction in the Palestinian territories was limited, and there was virtually none elsewhere in Arab and Islamic countries. . . .

It turns out that the United States can support Israel strongly and still work closely with Arab states to promote common interests like opposing Iranian threats. The Arab street is not narrowly Israel-minded and is not as volatile as long believed. The sky won’t fall if the U.S. stops funding UN sacred cows like the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). Even if future U.S. administrations revert to the policies of the past, these old assumptions will remain disproved. That is a valuable accomplishment that will last long after Nikki Haley’s UN tenure.

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More about: Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, United Nations, US-Israel relations