Relations between Azerbaijan and Israel could not be better, but they cannot stop the decline of the local Jewish community. A new Jewish museum may be no more than a memorial to a dying community, reports Cnaan Liphshiz in Israel National News:
For one day each summer, the hills overlooking the centuries-old Jewish town of Krasnaiya Sloboda in Azerbaijan echo with the sound of wailing women.
The women ascend up a narrow path from this town of several hundred residents in northern Azerbaijan to its vast cemetery. It’s an annual procession on Tisha b’Av, the Jewish day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
At the cemetery, each woman sits next to a loved one’s grave – usually a husband or child, but sometimes a parent or sibling. She sings mournfully for hours in Juhuri, a dying Jewish language made up of Farsi and Hebrew with Aramaic and Turkic influences that is spoken only by the Mountain Jews of the Caucasus.
Hundreds perform the ritual each year; some travel halfway across the world to attend. It is a testament to how Krasnaiya Sloboda’s Mountain Jews have endured for about a millennium since Persian Jews established the town with the blessing of a local Muslim ruler.
Next year, the community hopes to strengthen its sense of identity even further with the opening in town of a multimillion-dollar Mountain Jews museum. Spearheaded by a wealthy expatriate living in Moscow, the museum will feature artifacts collected from throughout the Caucasus, including ritual objects, documents and other evidence of the Jewish life that thrived here for centuries on the border between Europe and Asia.
But amid growing emigration by Jews from the rural and impoverished area, some locals and experts on the community fear for its long-term viability and that of its language — and that the museum will be less a living tribute than a memorial.
“The demographic trajectory isn’t promising,” said Chen Bram, an anthropologist from Hebrew University and Hadassah Academic College who has researched Mountain Jews for decades. “I hope this new museum doesn’t eventually become a monument for an extinct community” in Krasnaiya Sloboda.