The annual awards ceremony honoring persons who contributed to the advancement of language and culture of Caucasian Jewry took place recently in Moscow. Caucasian Jews, more commonly referred to as Mountain Jews, are natives of Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Dagestan, and the surrounding region. Russian prominent businessman German Zakharyaev, a Caucasian Jew from Azerbaijan and president of STMEGI Foundation of Mountain Jews, asserted that “In recent times, Mountain Jews have grown not only into a prominent community on a national scale but due to their unity and staunch faith to their heritage, into the leading Jewish community in Russia.”
The ceremony was attended by Chief Rabbi of Moscow Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt who praised the group with the famous words of the Mishnah in Ethics of the Fathers: “Who is honorable? One who honors the creations,” to describe the supreme value that Mountain Jews place upon mutual respect and honoring every human being.
Prizes were awarded by vice president of the STMEGI Foundation Isai Zakharyaev to the following awardees: Russian television Kultura stage manager Irena Candelaris; author of the contemporary textbook on the language of Mountain Jews Gennadi Bogdanov; and president of Cherkizovo Food Industries Igor Babaev. The ceremony was likewise attended by vice president of the World Jewish Congress and chairman of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress Planning Committee Mikhail Chlenov.
The Mountain or Caucasian Jews have piqued the interest of several historians throughout the years, and their elusive history has many versions and traditions. According to one version, Mountain Jews are direct descendants of the Ten Tribes who were exiled by King Sanhereb of Assyria in 722 B.C.E., while another version places them as descendants of Jewish exiles from Persia who were expelled over a half-millennium later in the 5th or 6th century. According to some, the legendary conversion of the kingdom of Khazar followed the vanquish of lands where Mountain Jews resided for many years.
In any event, despite centuries of isolation from their Jewish brethren around the world, Mountain Jews remained strictly faithful to Judaism and Jewish tradition and meticulously observed all laws pertaining to marriage, ritual slaughter, kosher, circumcision, as well as the Jewish Sabbath and holidays. Their Jewish vernacular, called Juhuri or Judeo-Tat, is a mix of Persian, Hebrew, Kurdish, and Turkish.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a large number of Caucasian Jews integrated successfully into the business world and have since become among the most influential and affluent businessmen in Russia. Most notable among them are the Zakharyaev brothers, God Nisanov, Gavril Yushvaev, Zarakh Iliev, and others. German Zakharyaev, who also serves as vice president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, relocated to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union and is presently the owner of the largest ‘Sadovod’ Market in Moscow along with a long line of businesses and factories. He is a generous supporter of Jewish religious and cultural institutions both in Russia and Israel.