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Thornhill commemorates unity between Azerbaijan, Jewish community
Nov. 15, 2022

Politicians of various political stripes attended a Thornhill gala to celebrate Jewish heritage in the country of Azerbaijan.

Put together by the Network of Azerbaijani Canadians (NAC) and United Grassroots Movement, and titled “A Celebration of Jewish Heritage in Azerbaijan,” the event took place on Nov. 10 at the Schwartz Reisman Centre.

Azerbaijan is a country with over 95 per cent of its population identifying as Islamic.

Azerbaijan is an outlier in being a predominately Muslim country that openly embraces Jewish people.

“Azerbaijan saved many Jews from Auschwitz,” said Esther Halevei, who was born in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, and is of Jewish ancestry.

Unlike other countries in the former Soviet Union, Azerbaijan was a safe haven for Jewish people.

“Today is a very special event. Azerbaijan is one of the countries in the world that has a unique model of multiculturalism,” said Rabbi Zamir Isayev, chair of the religious community of Georgian Jews of Baku.

Isayev was an honoured guest, visiting from the capital and representing his native community.

The Jewish community is used to living there in harmony and peace without the threat of antisemitism, according to Isayev.

Azerbaijan now enjoys a diplomatic relationship with Israel, supplying the latter with 40 per cent of its energy needs.

“Together we are stronger. We have common values and common bonds as people,” said Dave Gordon, one of the founding members of United Grassroots Movement.

“When I learned Azerbaijan as a nation embraced and protected its Jewish minority, I thought this was the perfect opportunity for two communities to come together,” said Gordon. “The Jewish community has an important ally in the Azerbaijanis ... We have more voices against hatred and more resources to fight hatred and more representation against those who wish us ill.”

Many politicians also commented on the rise of antisemitism.

“It’s not enough to be outraged by antisemitic comments. Change happens when we show up,” said Melissa Lantsman, MP for Thornhill and deputy leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, in an impassioned speech to the room.

Vaughan’s new mayor-elect echoed that sentiment.

“To endure or suffer in silence is not good enough. We need to demand better,” said Steven Del Duca.