January 17, 2008
Spinker? I just met her!
(Page 3 - Previous Page)I suppose that freedom allows any group to dance their native folk dances. As a Lithuanian American, I have participated in three Lithuanian Folk Dance festivals in Chicago, Toronto, and in Lithuania. Minority ethnic groups never participated in any of these festivals. This doesn't in any way demean or ostracize these groups.
I doubt if any reasonable person could infer anything negative about a National Folk Dance Festival. We dance traditional dances in our native costumes just as our ancestors did years ago. It is a celebration for young and old to enjoy and hopefully encourage other Lithuanians to continue the tradition.
I read with interest the article from JTA concerning controversies about Israel accepting additional Ethiopian immigration ("Ethiopian Advocates Push for 8,500 More Aliyot," Dec. 21).
Whatever those controversies suggest about who qualifies for aliyah, Ethiopian Jews continue to come. Their integration into Israeli society is an obligation the Jewish people must continue to undertake with the partnership of Israelis.
Kids from Ethiopia need help in ensuring their long-range success in the educational system, in national service and in passing exams for professional training within Israel.
Anyone who cares about a just Israeli society should support Operation Promise and other efforts to create a better, more welcoming state.
Operation Promise Campaign
The Jewish Federation
Gabriel Lerner's article "Azeri Jews: Centuries of Coexistence in Azerbaijan" is full of fabrications (Jan. 11).
He falsely states that the Azeri government is a model for religious liberty in the world "especially compared to Armenia" where he claims there are "less than 10 Jews." During and after World War II hundreds of displaced Jews settled in Armenia, bringing the population to 10,000 by 1959. In 1995 the Chabad house was established in Yerevan and in 2004 it began producing kosher food.
When the Soviet Union disintegrated, the Nagorno-Karabakh parliament along with the majority population comprising 94 percent of Armenians voted to unite itself with Armenia after suffering years of repression of its cultural and religious freedoms under Azeri rule, ever since the British and Soviet Bolsheviks after World War I handed the Armenian land to Azerbaijan. Ancient Jewish cemeteries have been unearthed in Armenia and the friendly relationship between Jews and Armenians dates back to over 2,000 years.
Gabriel Lerner is clearly not very learned as seen in his poor attempt to portray a bad picture of Armenia especially in comparison to the suppressive Azeri regime.
Long ago in Moscow the student who very seriously studied Torah in underground classes but had for lunch anything that could be found in the dorm, met another one, who hardly knew what the weekly portion was about but could hardly imagine that anyone could eat food that is not kosher. Her eyes and long hair turned out to be the most decisive factor of all, and contrary to family insistence that she choose a "nice Jewish boy" (Ashkenazim were not considered), we even got married. This is how I first became involved with "tats" or "mountain Jews."
I was very pleased to see Gabriel Lerner's article talking about this virtually unknown community that easily traces their roots to the times of Esther and Mordechai. Many times I heard from my wife's family and others that their ancestors ended up on the other side of Caspian Sea because they tried to escape from the hands of Haman. The picture of this community presented in the article is very far from reality. Like most of the former Soviet republics, Azerbaijan today is a dictatorship run by the former KGB officer and his son, and it appears that the author went a long way with an official propaganda.
"Mountain Jews" are not "Azeri Jews." While the big part of this community did reside in Quba in Azerbaijan, the other very big centers were Derbent and Machachkala, which is in Russian Daghestan. The less than 20-year-old border obviously did not split the more than 20-centuries-old community. There also was a big number of Ashkenazi Jews who were calling Azerbaijan their home. The physics Nobel Prize winner Leo Landau was one of them. It is true, and the same I've observed in Georgia and in Uzbekistan, that although Ashkenazi and "mountain" Jews had very little contact, at every opening of the borders both groups equally stormed the visa offices. I witnessed times when every other house in Quba and Derbent were for sale and towns went virtually empty.
There is a much better chance to find a Quban Jew now in Netania and Hadera than in Quba. True, many returned to due to economic reasons. They built palaces, drive expensive cars and hold to their Israeli passports.
Compared to other parts of the Soviet empire, Azerbaijan was one of the most tolerant and Baku was a truly cosmopolitan city. There was a big Armenian diaspora in Azerbaijan. The relationships between communities could be described by the fact that world chess champion Garry Kasparov was born in Baku from Jewish and Armenian parents.
Azerbaijan may be a solid partner with Israel and a good place for Jews to live; yet it is very doubtful that "Azeri Jews" willing to sacrifice their lives in the war for Nagorniy Karabakh. During the creations of the Soviet Union, the "Father of the Nations" decided this historically Armenian region Artzah to be a part of Azerbaijan republic. This resulted in what Armenians justifiably believe was a quite a genocide and destruction of Armenian culture -- Armenian children were forced to learn Azerbaijani, churches closed, etc.
When the empire collapsed, the population of Karabakh rebelled. In response Azerbaijan staged a wave of Armenian pogroms. This, along with following war and a neighboring Chechen conflict, very much helped those who were not decided about aliyah to make their move. The only sides that I know Jews were taking in this situation was giving shelters and helping victims.