DHC was recently contacted by Vugar Lewish Guseynov, a young Azeriengineer on a short training course with a local company. A resident of Baku,the capital, Vugar is by descent a ‘Mountain Jew’ whose ancestors have been in that country for many, many centuries. Unfortunately every time we made arrangements for him to meet with the community or attend shul, his boss sent him elsewhere at short notice, Aberdeen on one occasion! On his last weekend here however, my family was lucky enough to be able to welcome him as our Shabbat guest. He proved to be very entertaining, a great credit to his family and really informative and we learned a great deal about Azerbaijan and its Jews. We were amazed to learn for instance that there is a small mountain town called ‘Red Town’ (after the colour of the bricks) across the river from Quba, which is entirelyJewish.
He showed us pictures of the 2 large, handsome synagogues in Baku which have been recently built with help from abroad. He attends the ‘European’ rather than the Mountain Jew shul and was told to try to make contact with our community by his rabbi. A speaker of several languages including Russian and some of the Mountain Jews’ own Judeo-Turkic language, Vugar explained that though his country has rich mineral resources including oil and gold and extensive agriculture due to its 9 (!) different types of climate, sadly sections of the population remain very poor including many of the Jews. His synagogue arranges food distribution every week.
Vugar explained that life is quite traditional still. As his father has had a stroke, he regards it as his duty to work to help to support his family and he doesn’t expect to be able to marry (usually arranged) until his older brother is married. It is the custom to have a ‘bride’s’ and a ‘groom’s’wedding which may be up to a month apart and literally are TWO complete weddings with the groom escorted to the bride’s house by traditional musicians, ceremony and celebrations. The bride goes to live with her husband only after the 2nd ‘groom’s’ wedding. Fortunately it is also the custom for guests to give money as presents!