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Dannon sees great potential in building ties between Mountain Jewish community with Yemenite and Middle Eastern Jewish communities

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Multicultural entertainment at the Rehovot event. (Photo: Facebook)

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Israel Academia Monitor, which I head, and the Jewish Yemenite NGO Eeleh Betamar, the Yemenite Heritage Center in Rehovot, and others, recently held an event titled “The Yemenite Jewish community Hosts the Azerbaijani Community.” We hosted Yemenite and Azerbaijani performers alongside lectures on the pivotal importance of multiculturalism.

In a packed hall, as tickets were sold out long in advance, former Israeli Ambassador to the UN and former Minister Danny Dannon opened the conference by proclaiming the importance of promoting a nation’s tradition.

“I have always tried to push this forward at the UN when speaking to Muslim countries,” he noted. “They respect the honor we give to tradition and religion.  This is where Azerbaijan comes in. The Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan are very similar to us.” For this reason, he sees great potential in building ties between the Mountain Jewish community, the Yemenite Jewish community, and other Middle Eastern Jewish communities that have built the State of Israel and the Azerbaijani community at large.

Next, Elshad Aliyev-Tebrik of the Diaspora Committee in the Republic of Azerbaijan, addressed the event virtually and proclaimed the importance of multiculturalism in our modern world: “Azerbaijan occupies an important place among the countries where religious, racial and ethnic discrimination and antisemitism have never been recorded. Representatives of all peoples and religious communities historically have been living peacefully in our country, these traditions have a long history, and this trend continues successfully in the period of independence.”

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Aliyev-Tebrik noted that multiculturalism is one of Azerbaijan’s greatest assets and stressed that it has always been a pivotal part of his country.  He also added that multiculturalism and religious tolerance are very popular: “Our history is based on multiculturalism. Yes, multiculturalism as a concept is a new expression, but it has always existed in Azerbaijan. Regardless of the socio-political structure, Azerbaijan has always been a place of peace, cooperation, and mutual understanding, and the Azerbaijani state maintains these traditions.”

Azerbaijan’s Tourism Attache Jamilya Talibzade spoke about how Israelis should make Azerbaijan their next tourist destination: “Only last year when I relocated to Israel, I learned that there was anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. I heard about it from friends and was shocked. I was surprised that they were right.  Why did I not feel that growing up in Azerbaijan?  This is because multiculturalism and religious tolerance are in our blood. Another example is that neighbors lived together in one building and celebrated holidays from different nations. We had New Year, Passover, Easter, and Novruz together.  Thus, at the end, Azerbaijanis know how to celebrate different holidays. Everything that they do to celebrate here during the holidays appears normal.”

Next, Rabbi Shmuel Simantov spoke about the struggles faced by the Azerbaijani Jewish community during the Soviet period and compared it with Jewish life in Azerbaijan today: “We hid the tallit where no one could see it. There were no brit milahs. There were also no mosques for the Muslims.  But now, there are many brit milahs. There are now 80 year olds coming to do brit milah.”  He also noted the strong connections between the Azerbaijani and Yemenite Jewish communities: “An Azerbaijani synagogue has a Yemenite name. We use the same letters as they use in Yemenite.”  

Rabbi Simantov spoke about how much the Azerbaijani Jewish community loves and appreciates their country, as the newly established country of Azerbaijan has treated them with dignity and respect. He spoke about how he lost family during the First Karabakh War: “We fought for it, we did honor the place where we came from. We did it because there was never anti-Semitism there.” He noted that the synagogues are always open, and they are now restoring the synagogues that the Communists closed off.

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Afterward, Jason Guberman, the head of the American Sephardi Federation, noted how Azerbaijan is a role model for other countries in the region, which is wracked by hatred and conflict: “Azerbaijan is only thirty years removed from the Soviet Union, which had rampant anti-semitism. Free and independent Azerbaijan has returned to its hospitality and traditions, which have been ongoing for thousands of years.”

He noted that Jews and Christians enjoy equal rights in Azerbaijan: “They see no contradiction in their national and religious identities. There are Sunnis and Shias praying in the same mosque.” He compared what Azerbaijanis experienced during the Second Karabakh War to what Israelis experienced along the Gaza border: “Listening to the locals, it sounded like Sderot and Ofakim.”  Guberman added that local Azerbaijani Imams study Jewish studies.

Dr. Rachel Yedid emphasized that what Guberman says are things that the average Israeli does not know, that “It is a model of harmony and coexistence.”  

Dr. Drora Arussy of the ASF Institute of Jewish experience spoke next about respecting one’s tradition.

I spoke after her. I emphasized in my talk that Azerbaijani multiculturalism has served as a solution for the issue of antisemitism, which plagues our world: “The Azerbaijani model is based on a long history that dates back to the pre-Soviet Union, at the time of the 1918 declaration of the first republic in the Muslim world. This Republic was, from the beginning, committed to secularism and held an inclusive view of the nation known as Azerbaijanism.”

Prominent human rights lawyer Irina Tsukerman urges people, “Go to Azerbaijan and see it with your own eyes. Don’t listen to the media. Don’t listen to bigoted messages.  Ask people about their faith and culture and how they coexist together. This is something that we can learn from as we travel more. I hope this natural, cultural warmth and this feeling of respect for humanity is something that can bring people together more.”

“in the religious field, the Azerbaijani authorities have created complementary institutions with comprehensive mandates,” I stressed. “Indeed, over time, legislation was passed that increased the regulatory power of these institutions, especially as the state worked to reduce the influence of foreign religious entities. These Government institutions sought to exercise control over religious literature, education, and training, as well as monitor the content of sermons, pilgrimage, and all activities and funds of the religious associations. The Azerbaijani model moderates the groups that may be a threat.”

In conclusion, I proclaimed: “I would again like to commend Azerbaijan, both for its standing alongside Israel and for its good and fair attitude toward the Jews who live in it. In particular, it is very important that this good relationship between the two countries, Israel and Azerbaijan, will be maintained and developed for many years.”

Following me, Victor Zislin, a prominent Israeli photographer, displayed his beautiful and artistic photos of Azerbaijan and spoke about his work: “Azerbaijan is an amazing country not only for photographers but for normal people.  The pictures tell everything for itself.”

By the end of the evening, the Yemenite dancers “Rehovot Teyman” and the Azerbaijani singer Layla Vlaiyev made the event more like a festival that celebrates friendship between beautiful communities.

Dr. Dana Barnett is the CEO of Israel Academia Monitor. Her posts can be read on israel-academia-monitor.com

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

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