November 18, 2018

Azerbaijan and U.S. Jews building powerful bonds

I am honored to have the opportunity to share my thoughts and ideas on a regular basis in the Jewish Journal. I hope this forum will provide a window to the Jewish community of Azerbaijan, and offer a place for open dialogue on issues facing all communities. Having visited Southern California several times, I am fortunate to have developed a special kinship with the Jewish community there. My visits have taken me to a number of synagogues and institutions, where I have been able to meet many leaders of the Southern California Jewish Community. From my visits I have come to see that there is a special relationship between Azerbaijan and Los Angeles Jewish Community, as we both share a strong commitment to preserving the past but also valuing the future.

I have spent my life helping to strengthen the Jewish community in Azerbaijan. This is a special place – a birthplace of one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world. And in this place we have created a welcoming environment for people of all faiths. This openness is a spirit driven by the Azerbaijani people that have for centuries been committed to building bridges between all communities and all cultures because that is the only way for all mankind to survive and thrive.

As I sit today in my home, in the celebrated Mountainous Jewish community of Azerbaijan, I reflect on what it has been like to travel the world, to visit California, which has connected new friends with the Azerbaijani model for tolerance and peace.  For this first post, I am writing to share recent experiences and occasions of enlightenment that have provided me with richness and relationships that will last a lifetime.

It is difficult to summarize the joy and universal acceptance I experienced in my most recent visit to Los Angeles. From the experience of receiving for our Mountainous Jewish Community a new Sefer Torah from Sinai Temple and its outstanding leader Rabbi David Wolpe; breaking bread amongst old and new friends to meeting esteemed leaders from across communities. These meetings marked the growth of a  special relationship between the Jewish communities of Azerbaijan and Los Angeles, which I hope will continue to flourish  over the years ahead. For a more detailed description of my visit, please refer to my Jewish Journal piece from April.

Recently, I had the good fortune of hosting in Azerbaijan Mr. Cary Lerman from the Sinai Temple, who played a central role in the effort to make a Torah for our community, as well as Rabbi Yonah Bookstein of Pico Shul Synagogue, who has taken courageous steps to build bridges between Azerbaijani Muslims and Jews of Los Angeles.  Together we shared thoughts on how to build even closer ties between the people of Azerbaijan and the United States. Their trips sparked new hope that more Jews and Muslims from around the globe will look to the great model of inclusion and interfaith engagement that Azerbaijan has created, and apply this positive experience as widely as possible.

As Jews we have been living freely, without any persecution or discrimination, in total harmony with our Azerbaijani brothers and sisters for centuries. In Azerbaijan, the precious balance of interreligious harmony means that everyday life is filled with a sense of sharing in a most open and peaceful manner. In these cynical times, I feel blessed to be able to share that there is a certain religious energy to the kind of connection the people of all faiths experience in Azerbaijan. Our geographically remote and territorially small, but globally meaningful country proves the concept that loving our fellow men and women can be realized above any other philosophy.

In times as these, with such unparalleled ability to share so much information so fast and to so many, we must boldly cling to the values and voices behind our growing movement for peace across all faiths. We need to work every day to share experiences of hope and tolerance and be a light upon nations, no matter the distance between us. I am humbled by the opportunity to share the experiences and faith of my community, and most importantly, our passion for telling a new story about peace and tolerance to as many people as possible.

Milikh Yevdayev is the Head of the Community of Azerbaijan’s Mountain Jews