Barely 150 kilometers from Iran, one of the biggest Jewish schools in central Asia has opened its doors in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
President Ilham Aliyev was the guest of honor at the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Chabad Ohr Avner day school, along with more than 200 others, three years after a cornerstone-laying ceremony led by Azerbaijani First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva.
Israel's Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar was among a delegation of high-ranking Jewish officials who attended the ceremony, as was Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, who is also the Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to the region. In addition, businessman and president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the CIS Lev Leviev, who played a central role in the establishment of the school, participated as well.
“For generations [Jews] have shown how well they get along with other people,” Aliyev told those who came to open the new school. “These children are proud of the fact that they are Jews, and the fact that they are citizens of Azerbaijan. We call on other nations to treat minorities like we do, with respect,” he said.
Azerbaijan, home to 12,000 Jews, was among the first of the former Soviet republics to pursue diplomatic relations with Israel.
Lazar praised the Azerbaijani government as among the region’s most tolerant. He encouraged the construction of a second Jewish day school on the heels of the first, and told Chabad.org that a school “like Baku’s state-of-the-art educational complex should be established in Quba.”
The country’s largest population of “mountain Jews” is located in the northern city.
The 30-classroom building, which serves some 400 students, is located on a tract of almost four acres of land overlooking the Caspian Sea.