Azerbaijan International

Spring 2003 (11.1)
Page 13


New Jewish Synagogue Opens in Baku

ewish Synagogue which just opened in Baku on March 9, 2003
Left: The new three-story Jewish Synagogue which just opened in Baku on March 9, 2003 at 171 Dilara Aliyeva Street. (Photo by Elman Gurbanov)

The long-awaited day for the Jewish community had finally arrived - March 9, 2003. Finally, after the long moratorium on religion in the Soviet Union, and more than a decade after Azerbaijan gained its independence, the Jewish community of Baku finally dedicated their new Synagogue.

"This is a major event for Azerbaijan," said Gennadiy Zelmanovich, Chairman of the Baku Religious Community of European Jews. "Jews who live here have always felt very free, which shows that it's quite possible for Muslims, Jews and Christians to live together in peace. In other European countries, synagogues are being burned down because of anti-Semitism. But here in Azerbaijan, we are building up God's house. That's a great cause for celebration."

Gennadiy Zelmanovich, Chairman of the Baku Religious Community of European Jews, explained the need for a new building: "A year and a half ago, we decided that it was impossible to continue worshipping in that old semi-basement building, built in 1910, that the Soviet government had assigned us in 1946. Prior to that, the building has been used for military storage. We decided to pull it down and build a new one on the same land." Construction of the three-story synagogue at 171 Dilara Aliyeva Street began in February 2002. Galber Alexander, a Jewish architect from Azerbaijan, drew up the plans.

Below: Religious dignataries who attended the opening ceremony of the synagogue, including top representatives of the Muslim community and the Russian Orthodox church.

Religious dignataries in the opening of Synagogue in Baku

Religious dignataries in the opening of Synagogue in Baku

"Actually, we didn't have enough funds to finance the project, but we stepped out in faith," explained Zelmanovich. "Our principle has always been: 'Let's go ahead and build and somehow, somewhere, we'll find the money'. There are still bills to pay, but I think that individuals as well as Jewish organizations will help us."

In Azerbaijan the Jewish population is estimated to be about 25-30 thousand people. The community can be divided into three main groups: the Ashkenazi / European Jews, Mountain Jews, and Georgian Jews. Another significant community of Mountain Jews resides near Guba, a town north of Baku near the border of Dagestan.

"Jews in Azerbaijan are expressing a great interest in their own traditions," Zelmanovich said. "After being subject to the Soviet information blockade and restrictions on religious freedom, many Azerbaijani Jews are unfamiliar with Jewish traditions. Now they are starting to learn Hebrew and celebrate the Jewish holidays." On Jewish holidays, the newly built 250-seat hall is overflowing with celebrants.

Guests at the synagogue's opening ceremony included Abbas Abbasov (Azerbaijan's First Vice Premier), Hidayat Orujov (President Aliyev's Advisor in National Politics), Rafig Aliyev (Chairman of the Committee of Religious Education), Sheykhulislam Allahshukur Pashazade, (Chairman of the Religious Administration of Caucasian Muslims), Bishop Alexander of Baku and the Near Caspian. Many members of the diplomatic corps attended the ceremony including ambassadors from Israel, Poland, Russia, Germany and the United States.

Other honored guests were Alexander Antonovich Mashkevich (President of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress), Berl Lazar (Head Rabbi of Russia), Telman Ismayil (famous businessman and one of the sponsors of the construction), and Gennadiy Khazanov, (People's Artist of Russia).

In order to educate the Jewish population in Azerbaijan, two American organizations, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJJDC) and the World Jewish Agency Sokhnut have been active in spreading awareness of Jewish culture and traditions. Also the Israeli Embassy has played a major role. These American organizations along with Jews from Baku living abroad have helped sponsor the construction of the new synagogue.

The new synagogue has two prayer halls: the smaller one for Georgian Jews and the larger for Ashkenazi / European Jews. The building also has a kosher dining room that can accommodate 70 people. There is also a study center and a library for religious books. Meir Bruk has been assigned as the congregation's rabbi.

Gennadiy Zelmanovich, Chairman of the Baku Religious Community of European Jews, was interviewed by Arzu Aghayeva. Contact Zelmanovich: Tel: (994-12) 98-02-47, Fax: (994-12) 98-02-50 or

Back to Index AI 11.1 (Spring 2003)
AI Home
| Search | Magazine Choice | Topics | AI Store | Contact us

Other Web sites created by Azerbaijan International
| |