Protected Jewish life in a Muslim country

A week-long journal

It is a fully functioning Jewish life protected by the country, from the top and from the bottom.

It took almost a day to arrive from Los Angeles to Baku, the capital of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Losing 9 hours on the clock I became confused thinking that I landed on Saturday and thus I headed to join the local Jewish community for Shabbat services; but of course, I missed it while being in the air.

Regardless, the loss was trivial as I managed to visit the main two synagogues in Baku, the Synagogue of Mountain Jews and the Jewish Community of European Jews Synagogue or the European Ashkenazi Synagogue.

The building of the Synagogue of Mountain Jews and the Jewish Community of European Jews Synagogue or the European Ashkenazi Synagogue
Inside the Synagogue of Mountain Jews

I am told that the Jews in Islamic Iran, close to Azerbaijan, are free to practice their religion. But Iran and the Jewish state, Israel, do not have diplomatic relations.

No other Muslim country has a Jewish community that is thriving under the rule of a majority Muslim population. To the contrary, Azerbaijan, a majority Muslim country, has diplomatic relations with Israel and the Jews, 30,000 in total, 25,000 are members of the ancient Mountain Jews community and some 5,000 are the community's latest addition of European Jews, all are living safely and content in the country. The government of Azerbaijan sees to it; it is their interculturalism dogma to root out the evil of ethnic differences and thus the largest number of Jews in a Muslim country can be found in Azerbaijan.

Count of Jews in Muslim counties

Rabbi Shneor Segal, the Chief Rabbi at the Jewish Community of European Jews Synagogue, a Chabad rabbi who fluently speaks several languages, took few moments from his busy schedule to tell me he runs fully functioning synagogue activities, whether youth or adult, and the participation is high. ”We have to do our holy work,” the rabbi made a statement. “Life is good for the Jews here and we have the support from the government. Last year the president, Mr. Ilham Aliyev, allocated to our synagogue $60,000 of which we dedicated $16,000 to increase the activities in the synagogue. We are renovating the third floor for more classes and adding a community activity hall. And tourism traffic from Israel is on the rise and that strengthens the already close ties of the country with the state of Israel.”

And the rabbi went on to add, “this is a new country with much to catch on and improve, after decades of Communist rule. But our job is to see the light and to make it even brighter.”

A member of the community was excited to tell me that they are planning to open the first Kosher restaurant in Baku and he was smiling from ear to ear while revealing the news. That means that religious Jews can take a tour of the country as well. All is in line of strengthening the relations between two countries that if we go along global standard of today, should be at odds.

As the mantra may go, there is no evil where evil has no place. That is Azerbaijan for all of us, members of the world’s community, to know.