Record Jewish school registration in Azerbaijan: Govt's wonderful accommodation

  (photo credit: courtesy of the President’s Office, the Israeli Embassy, and the Jewish community)
(photo credit: courtesy of the President’s Office, the Israeli Embassy, and the Jewish community)

As the Azerbaijani Jewish community prepares to accommodate hundreds of worshippers for the High Holidays, it appeals to the Jewish leadership to condemn the use of the Holocaust by Iran’s allies in reference to the ongoing crisis in the Karabakh region; Senior rabbis in Israel and the Diaspora: “Any attempt to compare the atrocities of the past is a desecration of the memory of the millions murdered” * 5784 school year opens with Rosh Hashana eve celebrations

At a major event just prior to the New Year, the Azerbaijani Jewish community celebrated the impressive growth of the student body at the Jewish school in Baku. The coming year sees a 10% increase in the student regiatration, the most successful experienced by the school, which is run under the auspices of The Committee for Torah Revival in the Former Soviet Union and the STMEGI organization, in conjunction with Azerbaijani education ministry. This year, studies will begin on the eve of Rosh Hashana, as according to Azerbaijani law. At the same time, preparations are under way to accommodate hundreds of worshippers in the three largest congregations in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku. Additional services will take place across the country in Krasnaya Sloboda, a town inhabited exclusively by Jews.

In an emotional speech delivered by the rabbi of the Georgian Sephardic community, Rabbi Zamir Isayev, who also serves as the school principal, he said that “the impressive increase in the number of students is a direct result of the wonderful accommodation provided by the government at Jewish educational institutions and for the Jews in general.” 

Rabbi Isayev also made mention of the Jewish community’s pain in light of the smear campaign conducted against the Azerbaijani government for the “starving to death of thousands of Armenians,” and its comparison to the Holocaust. “There are events in the history of mankind, whose use of the Holocaust other than preserving the memory, is wrong and forbidden, especially when it is cynically used for odious political purposes.

“Who else has suffered years of false accusations without proof, such as the murder of the Palestinian people through foreign media or fabricated rumors and stories, like the people of Israel? The Jewish nation’s cruelest enemy, Iran, exploits these fabricated stories and exerts its influence over international organizations as it demands to apply sanction measures against Israel, who has been fighting these lies for decades.

“Today, the same is happening to a true friend of Israel - Azerbaijan. As a result of this deep friendship, its enemies accuse it of “starving thousands of Armenians,” -  a population that has been occupying a small enclave in the Azerbaijani part of Karabakh for the past 30 years, and who murdered and expelled all Azerbaijanis in the area. A point of note proving that there is no justification for the accusations of genocide or starvation that I can offer, is that the Azerbaijani government paved a road especially for the transport of supplies to the residents of this enclave and it was barricaded by the Armenian separatists.

“The greatest audacity is that in order to vilify the Azerbaijanis, they assent to going to the extent of using the memory of Holocaust victims. In an interview with the AFP, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused the Azerbaijani government of establishing a ‘ghetto for everything’ in the enclave, allegedly in ‘preparation for a new holocaust.’ Ruben Vardanian, head of the separatist organization even stated that ‘the suffering of the Armenians is greater than the suffering of the Holocaust victims, because the Jews were not slaughtered on their own land.’ 

Credit: Courtesy of the President’s Office, the Israeli Embassy, and the Jewish community
Credit: Courtesy of the President’s Office, the Israeli Embassy, and the Jewish community

“And I stand here before the Jewish people and ask, ‘What right do they have to talk about the Holocaust, when a statue commemorating the nazi collaborator, Garegin Nzhdeh, stands in the center of the Armenian capital, and whose streets bear his name throughout the country?’

“The Armenians are the allies and protégés of Tehran. The US has repeatedly warned Armenia against becoming too close with Iran, which included a visit to Yerevan by the head of the CIA in the summer of 2022. However, the Armenians responded with disregard. Over the past year, the Iranian president has emphasized several times the importance of their relations with Armenia, and has supported the reinforcement of the Armenian nation: ‘Iran views Armenia as a close and friendly country,’ says Ebrahim Raisi. Iran’s foreign minister adds that ‘The security of Armenia is Iran’s security.’  It was only recently that Tehran transferred drones and hundreds of missiles. In April this year, the Armenian army used Iranian-manufactured drones for the first time to attack Azerbaijan.”

Rabbi Isayev called on the Jewish leadership in Israel and the Diaspora “to support the Azerbaijani nation who has stood by our side for generations, protected the Jews, and gave shelter to those who fled from the pogroms in the early 20th century and from the Nazi atrocities later. The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has lasted more than three decades, and in the most recent war three years ago, Israel assisted Azerbaijan in returning most of the territory with the exception of the Karabakh region, which is home to some tens of thousands Armenians. The U.S. and E.U. are endeavoring to bring about a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan, therefore the psychological impact of the mention of genocide only impedes the negotiation process.”

Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag, head of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis in the United States and Canada, and Berlin community leader, Rabbi Dovid Roberts, said that they “reject any attempt to equate or compare anything between the horrific Holocaust with local conflicts, and no matter how significant they are - there is no place for mention of the Holocaust; it is complete blasphemy.” 

Chief Rabbi of Frankfurt and Chairman of the German Rabbinic Organization, Rabbi Avichai Apel, was joined by Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Mordechai Schudrich, and Rabbi Pinchas Zaltzman, the Chief Rabbi of Moldova, who also expressed shock by the use of the Holocaust in a local conflict: “Any attempt to make mention of the Holocaust or its atrocities in the context of conflicts, wherever they may be, needs to be uprooted,” said Rabbi Apel. 

Additionally, Chief Rabbi of Strasbourg and the Rhineland district in France, Rabbi Abraham Weill, Chief Rabbi of Belarus, Rabbi Mordchai Reichenstein, and Chief Rabbi of Vienna, Rabbi Jaron Engelmayer, appealed to world leaders to condemn these occurrences and to express their objection to the comparison of any conflict with the Holocaust “where the Nazis and their aides sought to annihilate a people by horrific and well-documented methods.”

Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto, founder of the Shuva Israel organization, stressed that involvement of the Holocaust in politics and conflict is not acceptable. “The Holocaust is a holy matter and needs to be discussed under holy circumstances.”

The subject brought more recent historical events to surface for Argentinians, and Rabbi Eliyahu Hamara, founder of the Latin American Rabbinical Conference and Chairman of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA), said that any attempt to bring up the Holocaust in any conflict or dispute in opinions between countries is erroneous: “As the rabbi of a community that has suffered from a murderous terror attack carried out by Iran, the atrocities of the Holocaust are no comparison and there is no place to bring up such a comparison to any kind of conflict.”

Panamanian Chief Rabbi David Peretz, Rabbi of Aish HaTorah in Chile, Rabbi Eliyahu Tamir, and Rabbi Yaniv Naftaliev, rabbi of the world Caucasian community, mentioned their disgust and rejection of any mention of Holocaust victims in national conflicts over land or any other conflict: “The atrocities of the Holocaust cannot be compared with anything at all. It is a degradation.” Rabbi Naftaliev called on the Jewish leadership in Israel and the Diaspora “to support the Azerbaijani people, a nation that has stood by our side for generations, protected and assisted the Jews, and established a warm home and practical infrastructure for spiritual and material life for the Jews, and has provided them with shelter time after time to those fleeing from murderers.” 

This article was written in cooperation with Shuva Israel