The country boasts a bustling Jewish community numbering over 20,000 people, and there is also a unique all-Jewish village worth exploring.
Attila Somfalvi, Maor Leizer | YNET
Ahead of President Isaac Herzog’s historic visit to Azerbaijan, which will focus primarily on strategic relations between the two countries, Chabad emissary and Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Shneur Segal revealed on Monday that there are 20,000-25,000 Jews living in the country, the descendants of an ancient community that has existed there for about 2,000 years.
In an interview with Ynet, Segal stated, “There have always been good relations between the Jewish community and the Azeri people. Despite the majority of the population being Muslim, you don’t feel it on the streets. I walk around with a kippah and traditional attire, and people greet me and say ‘shalom.’
There is no concern, no antisemitism. I have been living in Azerbaijan myself for 13 years, and there is genuinely a very warm relationship, not only between the Azerbaijani government and the Jewish community and the Jewish people but also between the Azeri people and the Jews and Israel.”
What does Jewish life look like here?
“This is not a small community, and there are many activities. Based on my estimation, 10-15% of Jews take an active part in community activities and actively engage in Jewish life, and it is growing all the time. We have synagogues scattered throughout the country, we have youth activities, students, and we also have a Chabad school that the Or Avner Foundation established 20 years ago with nearly 200 students,” he says.
“We keep finding more Jews here all the time. Due to the situation between the peoples, assimilation is very high. Sometimes a person with the surname ‘Mustafaev’ can come, and you couldn’t tell they’re Jewish unless they present themselves as one, saying that their grandmother was Jewish.
Last week, a day before the festival of Shavuot, a young man, 37 years old, entered the synagogue for the first time in his life. His grandmother was Jewish, and when she passed away, he came to seek help with the burial. He arrived during the holiday, and suddenly he exclaimed, ‘Wow, I didn’t know there was Jewish life here.’ In other words, you discover more and more Jews every day.”
The all-Jewish village
Evidence of ancient Jewish life can be found not far from Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital. About a three-hour drive away from the city is the village known as Kırmızı Kasaba, or the Red Village. It is located near the town of Guba, with a river running between them, which has been drying up in recent years.
What makes this village special is that almost all the residents living there are Jewish (100%, as claimed by the locals). The Red Village has a long history, and in recent years, a museum has been built there that tells the entire history of the local Jewish community. Additionally, one can visit the mikveh, synagogues, and other sites, such as the maternity hospital that served the Jewish community for many years.
The local residents do not speak Hebrew on a daily basis, but they take pride in their unique language, Juhuri, which is different from the Azerbaijani language and is considered the traditional language of the Mountain Jews. The synagogues in the village are still active, and if you stroll through the streets, you can see many Jewish symbols on house gates and fences.