Yizkor for Khojaly: Sharing Sorrow and Hope

On February 21-22, Pico Shul, our newly established spiritual community in Los Angeles, organized a “Solidarity and Commemoration Weekend” with local Azerbaijanis and the Consulate of the Republic of Azerbaijan. These are some of my reflections.

On the world stage, Jews and Muslims are viewed as mortal enemies. This weekend in our synagogue we demonstrated that not only do Jews and Muslims have the capacity to be at peace — they can even be friends.

For millennia, Jews have enjoyed unparalleled security, peace and friendship with the people of Azerbaijani. Jews who were persecuted in other areas found refuge and safety within this predominantly Muslim nation. With Azerbaijan’s rebirth as an independent nation after the fall of Soviet Union, that friendship remains, and in many ways has even grown.

But we did not gather to discuss geopolitics, or the latest advances in trade and relations between Israel and Azerbaijan. We gathered because, in the words of my friend Nasimi Aghayev, the Consul General of the Republic of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles, friends are there for one another when things are going well and when things are down.

Twenty-three years ago, in February 1992, Armenian militants and soldiers in the town of Khojaly murdered six hundred and thirteen innocent Azerbaijani men, women, and children during the Nagorno-Karabakh War and injured hundreds more. Thousands of residents of the town were made homeless. Supporters of Armenia dispute the number of dead, the identity of the perpetrators, and many issues surrounding the event. However, the Memorial Human Rights Center, Human Rights Watch and other international observers back the Azerbaijan account.

We listened to Anar Usubov as he told his painful story of survival. He lost 27 members of his immediate and extended family in the massacre. When he showed a Google map aerial view of his old home – now in ruins – we all felt his deep, permanent sense of loss.

But when we watched the video testimony of Durdane Aghayeva, who gave a detailed account of the massacre, her torture and captivity — that is when we cried. Durdane was a 20 year old girl when she was caught by militants fleeing the massacre. She was assaulted and tortured over eight days. She was placed naked in a tub of ice-water for hours at a time. She was tied to a chair, and had cigarettes extinguished on her knees because she refused to speak. They beat her so often and so mercilessly that she couldn’t walk.

But through sharing those stories, bearing witness to tragedy, and mourning together – we are planting seeds of hope. For here, in this Jewish house of worship, we had Muslims and Jews demonstrating solidarity, not strife.

When I recited Yizkor, the most solemn Jewish prayer of remembrance, I did not feel we were two antagonistic groups. Rather, we all felt a powerful unity of faith and humility as all children of the same God.

Jews are grateful for the friendship of the people of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Azerbaijan, both with the State of Israel and Jewish communities across the world. I pray that our friendship continues to grow and deepen, bringing peace and prosperity to our peoples.

May God comfort the mourners of Khojaly, may we see peace soon in Nagorno-Karabakh, and let Muslims, Christians, and Jews search for pathways of reconciliation to overcome darkness with light.

Shalom, Sülh.


Long Beach State: Student Resolution to boycott Israel

Title: Resolution in Support of the Call for the Immediate End to the Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza and a Boycott of Goods and Services that Maintain Business Relations with Israel

Sponsored by: Senator Zo Farooqui

Date Submitted: March 18, 2009

WHERAS from December 27, 2008 to January 22, 2009 attacks launched by the Israeli government on Gaza have resulted in over 1,300 deaths and 5,300 injuries, with more than 60 percent of the victims consisting of women and children;1

WHEREAS schools, mosques, hospitals, ambulances, civilian infrastructure, and UN compounds have been targeted;

WHEREAS this recent act of blatant violence contributes to the 18-month blockade enforced by the Israeli government on the Gaza strip through strict patrol of its borders. The aforementioned act has resulted in the devastation of Gaza’s infrastructure up to and including the collapse of its economy, causing 80 percent of the population to rely on international aid for the basic means of survival;2

WHEREAS Israeli occupation forces have demolished electricity, gas, and water resources of the region, leaving half of the Gaza population consisting of children in an open-air prison with no option of becoming refugees;3

WHEREAS Israel’s continuous denial of medical supplies in the region constitutes a violation of their signatory obligation to the First Geneva Convention, and causes an inability to treat the wounded, resulting in otherwise preventable deaths;4

WHEREAS Human Rights Watch has found that the Israeli government has used the controversial chemical weapon white phosphorus which “sticks to human skin and will burn right through to the bone” in areas of high civilian density;5

WHEREAS the Fourth Geneva convention renders Israel’s actions a war crime based on its intent and grotesque disproportionate use of military action;6

WHEREAS arbitrary damage of property, denial of rest areas (shelters), and discrimination based on political ideology and other actions put the Israeli Government in direct violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 5, 12, 13, 15, 17, 21 and 24; be it

RESOLVED that the Associated Students of California State University, Long Beach stand in solidarity to condemn all violence against civilians in the region and demand the removal of the blockade on Gaza, including the opening of its borders, while condemning Israel’s disproportionate aggression toward the Palestinian people; be it further

RESOLVED that ASI participates in a boycott of companies that have any economic ties to the Israeli state, be it finally

RESOLVED that ASI urges California State University, Long Beach, its foundation and its auxiliary to end all business action, including investments, and procurement with companies that maintain business with the state of Israel.