Кавказский Иерусалим

Uploaded by alexstupnikov on 06.02.2012

Dedicated to the Mountain Jews and in memory of Zaur Gilalov
Quba - The Jerusalem of the Caucasus
We are located in the northeast of Azerbaijan,
In the town of Quba. To be more precise, what you see behind me is one of the most unique Jewish places in the whole world.
This place is unique because it is here, in a settlement of Quba which is today called Krasnaya [Red] Sloboda
and which prior to 1926 had been called Yevreiskaya [Jewish] Sloboda
reside the Mountain Jews.
Today, Jews and Azeris of Quba lead their parallel lives without interference.
The Jewish quarter of Quba called Krasnaya Sloboda is the only place in the world which
already for 300 years is inhabited solely by Jews.
For centuries they have called Quba their home.
-"Have your people lived here long in Quba?" -"About 300 years. This is our homeland."
-"Only here?" -"Only here. 'Little Jerusalem'"
There used to be 11 synagogues here. Today there's just single unifying one.
Here only the men gather. Services are led not by an ordained rabbi, but by respected leaders who know Hebrew and the Jewish law.
The synagogue in the Jewish Krasnaya Sloboda of Quba is not just a house of prayer, but also a kind of cultural community center.
Here according to tradition gather only the men.
They pray, and bond, and converse, and discuss issues of the day.
Mountain Jews have always been particulary reverent towards Jewish traditions,
but have still remained and remain open and tolerant.
Laws and traditions for them have been more important that the exact letter of the law.
Perhaps this is the case because the Mountain Jews, like the people of the Caucasus as a whole, have always been freedom-loving,
but at the same time deferential to traditions and the older generation.
No matter where the emigres of this town have relocated to, be it USA or Israel, they still come back with their children and confess that they miss it.
-"I do miss Quba. I miss Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, some people can't come back here. They don't have the means to."
-"Jews weren't doing too bad here?"
-"No, not bad at all. Baruch Hashem [Thank God], you can see how well us Mountain Jews live here."
Even the leaders of the community gathering around the synagogue admit that in the last few years those emigrating whether to Russia, or the West, or Israel, if possible try to take the others with them.
-"People try to go to Moscow, buy apartments there. That's why there are a lot of empty houses here."
"Some are even selling their houses here just to buy an apartment in Moscow, or somewhere else in Russia."
-"Is it possible that in, say, 50-60 years there will be almost no Jews left in Krasnaya Sloboda?"
-"I think that even in a thousand years there will still be Jews here."
<> May He, Who has blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He, Who makes a way through the sea and a path through the mighty waters, May He bless and safekeep, care and succor, glorify and exalt the Government of Azerbaijan.
While some are hoping to see economic stabilization in Azerbaijan, matters closer to home concern everyone.
-"How does a Mountain Jewish woman feel about her role in the household?"
-"Very well."
-"Is she the lady of the house or...?"
-"She is. What she says goes."
Nevertheless, the final word in Mountain Jewish families stays with the husband, and in marriage, with the relatives.
-"When you got married, was it love or was it arranged."
-"I didn't even know him. I married according to Mosaic law."
-"Is it still the same now, or have the times changed?"
-"No. Now the times have changed. It's up to one's will now."
-"If it's no secret, how much was paid for you?"
-"For what?"
-"What was the bride price paid for you, if it's no secret."
-"Back then it wasn't [much], now it's much worse."
-"That is, much more?"
-"Of course. These days people pay $20,000 - $30,000."
-"Oh wow."
-"That's how bad it is. Makes one want to grab your head and run."
-"So it's better to have daughters then?"
-"Depends. If the son makes enough money, then it's no problem, but otherwise it's better to have a girl, as long as she ends up in a good family."
A Mountain Jewish woman is formally subordinate to her husband, but it is she who becomes the keeper of the hearth.
-"Did you marry a local girl from Quba?"
-"Her family is originally from Quba, but she herself is from Khachmaz, not far from here."
And to this day in the streets and cafes of Krasnaya Sloboda one can see only men.
Ancient traditions are strong in Quba and in a relatively new form.
On the 9th of Av [Tisha b'Av], the Jewish day of mourning over the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple,
it has become a custom for Mountain Jews from all around the world to gather here.
For them it's a day of remembering passed relatives and close ones.
as thousands arrive to the town's Jewish cemeteries.
These cemeteries have expanded the years, but they're attended to and cared for.
Some contemporary gravesites here remind one of memorial complexes in large cities of the world.
Those who have left to make a living in the West or Russia, come back and not only build new lavish houses and drive around in Mercedes,
but also don't spare their earnings on the final resting place of their loved ones.
It has become a form of paying respects to their own.
Thousands of Jews come here on this day to visit not just their immediate family,
but as it is a custom here, also their aunts, uncles, and other relatives.
Donations for the synagogue and cemetery maintenance are collected right here, accompanied by a stamped receipt.
-"Tell me, does almost everyone donate?
-"Yes. Yes."
-"Where do these means go?"
-"They go towards the synagogue."
-"To the synagogue and cemetery upkeep?"
-"Yes. Yes."
-"Does the amount increase with each year or decrease?"
While a good half of the Jews here today are visiting from abroad, far from everyone among those remaining here is eager to leave Quba.
-"Have you ever been to Israel?"
-"Not yet"
-"Didn't get a chance to?"
-"There is nothing pulling me there. Grass only seems greener on the other side."
In the Jewish tradition, as it is in life in general, in place of grief and mourning, comes revival of happiness.
In this regard, in Quba there's yet another custom.
Even today, they try to marry within their own.
It's hard to believe that this lavish, tastefully decorated banquet hall with a plasma screen and a simultaneous recording and live broadcast
is located in a remote part of not the wealthiest Azerbaijan.
On the one hand, there's celebration, a true Kavkazi feast among friends.
On the other hand, there's modesty and self-control, mainly among women.
It's as if some are happy for what they have attained, while others are saying farewell to what they have lost.
Perhaps that's just the way it is here.
In another year, the youth will perhaps have another wedding here, one no less lavish.
Young men in Quba, even those who study or work in Russia, prefer to marry their own.
-"When it come time to marry, will you look for a wife here?"
-"Of course, here. That's the tradition."
This young Jewish shochet [ritual slaughterer] believes that all young men here share this view.
-"A wife? Here of course. Where will you find a better one?
-"Nice girls?"
-"Of course, the nicest and well-mannered, and beautiful."
However, some things did change. It used to be that families had many children. Nowadays, the situation is changing.
-"Families are large here in Quba?"
-"Used to be. Today just two or three children."
"It used to be that families had 10-12 children ... 13 children, minimum 8 or 7."
-"How many children do you have?"
-"I have two kids"
-"Why so few?"
-"That's how life is nowadays."
And still, just a hundred years ago Quba was home to a third of all Mountain Jews.
They did not dissolve through assimilation, nor wither away in the hard times of war.
They only scattered, leaving behind wives, elders, and graves of their loved ones.
Leaving only to return. In its essence, the Jewish settlement of Quba hasn't changed in 300 years. And this it seems is for a while.
Author, correspondent, cameraman, soundperson, editor, technician: Alexander Stupnikov