Museum could be memorial to extinct mountain Jews

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

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.

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One Comment

  • Krasnaya Sloboda is a Russian name meaning Red Freedom. I would like to know what the original pre-Russian name was, perhaps it was in the Juhuri language. By the way, there are some songs and music of the mountain Jews on youtube and music-lovers might find it worthwhile to look them up and listen.


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