Over 300 participants at the Jewish Conference in Baku

June 13, 2023: For the second time in only nine months, the Jews of Baku had the opportunity to enjoy a Limmud FSU conference of Jewish learning. The first ever event, held in September 2022, engaged Jews from Azerbaijan in a day of Jewish and Israel learning, Jewish community, and the celebration of Jewish life. The second event, that took place last weekend, reached out to more than 300 participants.

Participants could choose from over 30 sessions, on such topics as the Jewish approach to food; the history and state of the Jewish community of Azerbaijan, a uniquely tolerant history of a Jewish community within a Moslem country; ecology in Azerbaijan; the current controversy about the planned judicial reform in Israel; alongside art workshops on decorating dishes, painting on glass, making jewelry, and even an opportunity to taste Azerbaijani wines.

Among the speakers at the event was Israel’s ambassador to Azerbaijan, George Deek, who discussed the warm and developing relationship between Azerbaijan and Israel against the background of what Israel needs to be a strong and vibrant country. “For a country to thrive,” Deek said, “You need three things: a strong military – which allows us to defend ourselves by ourselves; a vibrant economy – which allows us to become a global power in technology and innovation; and you need good friends.” Azerbaijan, he stated categorically, is one of Israel’s “best friends,” and he reminded the audience of recent events that testify to that friendship – the opening in Israel of Azerbaijan’s embassy, and the state visit to Azerbaijan by Israel president, Isaac Herzog. “Such events remind us of the immense potential that lies in building bridges and nurturing relationships.”

Reflecting on the success of the day, Limmud FSU founder, Chaim Chesler, remarked on “the vibrant spirit of Baku: Our second gathering here shines as a testament to Azerbaijan's rich Jewish heritage and welcoming spirit. The fusion of past, present, and future here fuels the Jewish soul.”

Among other highlights of the event, Amos Lev-Ran, Director of External Relations at JDC-FSU, shared the remarkable efforts of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Ukraine, and in supporting Ukrainian refugees, while Mark Ifraimov, Nativ's representative in Azerbaijan, delved into the history of Azerbaijan Jews and the fate of the Jews of the Caucasus Mountains during the Holocaust. Former Deputy President of the Israeli Supreme Court, Elyakim Rubinstein, talked about the divide in Israel regarding the juridical reform. There was also a special performance of a popular local singer HISS.

Neta Briskin-Peleg, Director of Nativ within Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office said in her greeting: “Nativ collaboration with Limmud FSU in Baku represents a powerful bond, strengthening our mutual ties in this significant region. The Azerbaijani Jewish community stands as a symbol of enduring friendship between Israel and Azerbaijan, and our joint efforts aim to nurture this relationship. Together, we're building bridges, fostering understanding, and highlighting the importance of these historic connections." 

"The Limmud FSU gathering in Baku encapsulates the resilience of our shared Jewish identity, demonstrating our solidarity against the shadows of antisemitism,” said Raheli Baratz-Rix, Head of the Department for Combating Antisemitism & Enhancing Resilience in the World Zionist Organization. “This event in Azerbaijan, a big friend of the State of Israel and Jewish people, is a beacon of hope, asserting that knowledge, unity, and understanding are our most potent weapons. Together, we uphold our values, embracing the diversity that strengthens our collective heritage."

Limmud FSU was founded in 2006 and is led by significant figures in the Jewish worlds such as its Chair, Matthew Bronfman, founder Chaim Chesler, co-founder Sandra Cahn and more. Since Limmud FSU’s first conference 18 years ago, over 80 events have been mounted and Limmud FSU events have reached out over the years to some 80,000 Jews with roots in the FSU who today live across the globe. 

Limmud FSU’s work around the world is supported by individuals and organizations such as Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, Genesis Philanthropy Group, Nativ-Prime Minister’s Office, World Zionist Organization, Jewish National Fund – Keren Kayemet leIsrael, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Jewish Agency for Israel, Wilf Family Foundation, Diane Wohl, Bill Hess and others.

In the best tradition of Limmud, the event was made possible by its team of local leaders and volunteers, led by Limmud FSU Executive Director Natasha Chechik, Director of Operations, Gabi Farberov, and the project coordinator, Sara Allahverdiyeva, and an entire team of volunteers. The volunteers and organizing committee members, who only a year ago heard for the first time about the concept of Limmud FSU learning conferences, had, by this year’s event truly internalized their role as volunteer leaders, and their activism in developing the wide-ranging program and marketing the event was significantly enhanced from last year.

Photos: Emin Malishev