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January 1, 2017 6:01 am

Celebrating Hanukkah With the Help of Azerbaijan

avatar by Mindy Stein

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Photo: Facebook.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Photo: Facebook.

Last month, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and Azerbaijan co-hosted a Hanukkah party at Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC.

The Conference of Presidents and especially Malcolm Hoenlein, its executive vice president of the organization, devote day and night for the benefit of Jews everywhere, and they deserve kudos and our continued support for hosting this wonderful event and for all of their vital work on behalf of klal Yisrael (the nation of Israel).

Azerbaijan, a secular Muslim country strategically bordering both Iran and Russia, has developed a close relationship with Israel that deserves recognition and applause. In just a snapshot of the growing ties between the two countries, Azerbaijan has purchased nearly five billion dollars worth of defense equipment from Israel and it has become the Jewish state’s largest oil supplier.

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My first encounter with Azerbaijan took place three years ago, when its ambassador to the US, Elin Suleymanov, came to a meeting at the office of the Conference of Presidents and subsequently invited us to an Azerbaijan Republic Day reception in Washington, DC. I wanted to show our support for a country that serves as a model of diversity and tolerance, and friendship with the United States and Israel, so I traveled to Washington, along with Gerald Platt (president of American Friends of Likud) and Ken Abramowitz (chairman of American Friends of Likud and on the board of Friends of the IDF). The room was filled with 500 people, including many in Arab garb — but, as far as I know, Gerry, Ken and I were the only Jews in the room. Ambassador Suleymanov greeted the three of us warmly, and as he addressed the audience and thanked everyone for coming, he gave special mention to “my Jewish friends.”

It was both my positive personal experiences with Azerbaijan and the increasingly close relations between that country and Israel that encouraged me to attend the Hanukkah party a few weeks ago. There, I told Ambassador Suleymanov and his wife that we pray that the warm relationship and economic cooperation between Azerbaijan, the United States and Israel will continue, and that Azerbaijan will use its influence to help foster peace in the region.

At the party, people all over the world, including many representing Muslim nations, came together. Hoenlein presented commemorative menorahs to the ambassadors of 13 countries — including seven with Muslim majorities — as well as to Maen Areikat, chief of the PLO delegation in Washington. Hoenlein thanked these representatives for their help in putting out last month’s devastating fires in Israel.

After the speeches, I told Areikat that the evening’s events were, hopefully, an important sign that peace could eventually be achieved.

He responded, “When your Prime Minister Netanyahu recognizes his immediate neighbors like he recognizes Azerbaijan, there can be peace.” I replied that there could be peace, if the Palestinians would say, “We recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” Areikat hesitated and said, “We can say that after an agreement is signed.”

Such moments give me hope for the future of Israel — and our world.

The author is the honorary National President and Chairman of the Board of Emunah of America.

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