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.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Ynet

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

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat