ATLANTA, April 13, 2016 /PRNewswire/ --
A group of American Jewish children visiting Azerbaijan, a Muslim nation wedged between Russia and Iran, praised the country's "religious tolerance" upon their return to Atlanta in the United States.
16-year old Mayaan Schoen pointed out Azerbaijan's warm society and open culture. "Azerbaijan is a prime example of religious tolerance, where Muslims, Jews and other religions peacefully co-exist," she said.
Five children, aged 13 to 17 years from the Atlanta Jewish Academy, travelled to Azerbaijan, accompanied by Rabbi Reuven Travis and Jewish community leader George Birnbaum.
"We live in a turbulent world, full of strife and violence based on religious differences," Birnbaum said. "Azerbaijan is really a model of what former Soviet and current Muslim countries should look like: still true to their culture and heritage, yet open to the West with tolerance and great freedoms."
"I walked around everywhere with the kipa on my head, feeling perfectly at ease," said Rabbi Travis. "There are cities in Europe where I wouldn't wear a kipa. I would be very fearful. But in Azerbaijan, my students and I just felt at home."
The trip was facilitated on the ground by The European Azerbaijan Society or TEAS, which arranged logistics as well as the sightseeing itinerary, which led the Jewish group from the Old City in the capital of Baku to the ancient rock paintings in Gobustan and the home of the mountain Jews in Guba.
"I do believe the kids learned a lot about Azerbaijani history and culture," said TEAS Chairman Tale Heydarov. "Azerbaijan is a beacon of religious tolerance in the region. Muslims, Jews and Christians live side by side in peace and harmony."
Yevda Abraamov, a member of the Azerbaijani parliament or Milli Majlis, accompanied the Jewish visitors to Guba. "Situated along the Silk Route at the crossroads between East and West, Azerbaijan has historically welcomed travellers and merchants," he said. "That tradition of hospitality and tolerance continues until today."
The trip has been so successful that the project may be repeated every year, while creating a similar program to bring Azerbaijani students to the U.S.
"It is our hope that over the long term, this type of project will yield wonderful results as the children grow into adults and create opportunities for business, politics, education and more between the two countries," Birnbaum said.
Jonathan Nooriel, 16 years old, concluded: "We have created a friendship bridge. Muslims and Jews can get along, work with one another and stand for peace around the world."
SOURCE Atlanta Jewish Academy