Additionally, like many other Sephardic groups, the Gorsky culture believes very strongly in Kabbala and the evil eye. Women used to weave and decorate carpets with mystical dragon-snake-like creatures and menorahs. And, despite 21st century modernization, Gorsky mothers still have the habit of sprinkling salt over the victims of ayin hara and then burning the salt on a stovetop’s flame, all while muttering intense personal prayers.
Although many Gorsky traditions derive from Kabbala and Jewish belief, there are several that have been shaped exclusively by the Islamic religion. During the Former Soviet Union’s rule, however, Gorskys slowly began to shed strong Muslim influence and adopted Russian language and customs, involving themselves in academics and the sciences. Inherently tenacious and intellectual, many Mountain Jews started to become professors, doctors, and engineers.
Yet, as we all know, the Former Soviet Union blew spirituality’s flame with frigid indifference. Granted, Azerbaijani Jews were not as scrupulously controlled as their Ashkenazic brethren living in the heart of the FSU, but they were still under the influence of Communism. In fact, during the 1920s and 30s, the FSU was intent on assimilating Jews. As part of their efforts, they propagated the myth that Gorsky Jews were not Jews at all, but rather part of the Tat Muslim community.
Despite these obstacles, Gorsky Jews held on to mitzvot like shechita and brit milah with fiery will. As Mr. David Mordechai states with a rush of pride, “Mountain Jews were usually very, very poor. And they were an isolated community. But they still believed in Hashem and the Torah with all their hearts.” The Mountain Jews also clung to the synagogues that they built. Today, there are six synagogues in Azerbaijan and the Jewish school, Ohr Avner Chabad Day School, is located in Baku. Thanks to the Jewish outreach organizations that have flocked to Azerbaijan, the Gorsky community is becoming more religiously aware than ever before. But, in a rather dismal sense, Baku and Kuba are no longer “Little Jerusalems.” Between 1989 and 2002, hundreds of Gorskys left their hometown for Israel, Moscow, and New York. The majority of the Gorsky population now lives in northern parts of Israel like Hadera and communities in Brooklyn like Kensington.
In fact, the first and only Gorsky synagogue to have ever been built in America sits proudly in the very heart of Kensington, on Ave C and Ocean Parkway. It is called the Gorsky-Kavkazi Jewish Center of New York and was founded in 2002. For the past decade, Gorsky Jews have been able to find a spiritual and cultural home at the Center. Vitaly Ruvinov, the president, is constantly organizing Talmud lectures for men, Rosh Chodesh meet-ups for women, melavah malkas for singles, and Hebrew School for children. Ruvinov and his staff are exceptionally passionate about their work.
“We are spearheading a revolution!” proclaims Elana Chaya Krasinskaya, a program coordinator at the Gorsky-Kavazki Jewish Center. “This is the sole place where Gorskys can feel a sense of community.” However, the Center can definitely use more assistance in its efforts. “People don’t know we exist,” continues Elana Chaya sadly. “Even though we work extremely hard, deliver hundreds of kosher food packages for the holidays, and organize events, we’re a tiny bunch. We need more resources, volunteers, and enthusiastic commitment.” The Gorsky-Kavkazi Jewish Center is the prime vehicle that will allow Torah to influence the community. Communism still effects the lifestyle decisions of Gorsky youth, and members working at the Center are determined invoke a dose of spirituality into their lives.
Gorskys, Kavkazis, Mountain Jews, or whatever other name you would like to call them, are a culturally rich and resilient part of the Jewish legacy. In spite of being small in number and secluded from other Jewish communities for centuries, they have nurtured a pure faith in Hashem. They still continue to value their traditions in postmodern Israel, Moscow, and the U.S. Like their ancestors preceding them, today’s Gorsky community has the spirit of a true warrior; its courage and motivation to grow are inborn.