By Erin Levi,
Alexander Tankelevich

For the first time ever, the World Bukharian Congress convened in Azerbaijan and Israel in a joint week-long trip. Read on for the highlights and impressions of the 24th edition of this annual gathering.

Five ‘Person of the Year 2024’ Winners

On March 13 in Baku, within the framework of the Presidential Week of the 24th Conference of the World Congress of Bukharian Jews, which has been taking place in different cities of the world since 2000, the Person of the Year 2024 ceremony was solemnly held, which summarizes the work of community leaders around the world.
Winner this year (in different categories) included: Yan Moshe (USA), Philanthropist of the Year; Yuri Motaev (Germany), Community Leader, Oleg Ustaev (USA), Public Diplomacy, Joseph Khaimov (USA), Public Figure.
Gavriel Kaykov (USA), photo artist, founder of Kaykov Media, was posthumously awarded the Noble Heart nomination. His award was received by his sons, Roman and Boris Kaykov (USA).

Presidential Week, Baku 2024

On March 11, a large US delegation, comprised of almost 100 leaders and activists of the Bukharian Jewish communities of New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Denver, flew to Tel Aviv.
After that, headed by their leader, President of the World Congress of Bukharian Jews (WCBJ) Levi Leviev, the delegation continued their trip flying to Baku by a chartered flight, which landed early in the morning of March 12 in the capital of Azerbaijan, the friendly and hospitable city of Baku.
And this route has a special meaning. In our difficult times, Azerbaijan has become an isle of great tolerance and friendliness, which from time immemorial have characterized the relationship between the Azerbaijani and Jewish peoples, and between Azerbaijan and Israel as a whole.
In the afternoon of March 13, the WCBJ delegation visited Ohr Avner Jewish School, a joint educational project, the brainchild of the first President of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, and the President of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS, President of the World Congress of Bukharian Jews, Levi Leviev.
Later that day in the evening, the solemn award ceremony for Person of the Year 2024 took place.
Following the delegation visited Guba, which is located 106 miles from the capital of Azerbaijan, on the border with Russia, to get acquainted with the now prosperous, world-famous Krasnaya Sloboda, where there are synagogues and a unique Museum of the History of Mountain Jews.
Back in Baku, the organizers inscribed a memorial Torah scroll dedicated to the victims of the terrorist attacks on October 7, 2023.
On March 16, all the participants gathered to celebrate Shabbat.
A young leader’s reflections

For leader and activist David Aronov, 27, it was the trip of a lifetime: «It was a great experience to be in a country I otherwise wouldn’t have visited alone, to be with the group and among the Bukharian Jewish community leaders of the world. Witnessing the historic Mountain Jewish community was fascinating. I was struck by the cultural similarities in everything—from their rugs to artifacts.» His mother was with him, pointing out the objects that reminded her of her childhood in Uzbekistan.
What was it like being in a Muslim country while Israel is at war with Gaza? «I didn’t see a single Palestinian flag or Gaza messages anywhere. Frankly, the response from locals was, ‘We support Israel,’ and ‘We don’t care about Hamas.’ The reality is that Israel and Azerbaijan have very strong diplomatic relations. Israel buys 60% of its oil from Azerbaijan.»
It helps that Azberaijan is open and inclusive: «It looks like it’s a more secular society,» said Aronov, «with few women wearing hijabs. It exudes a European ambiance with a hint of Turkish influence. Strolling through downtown Baku gives you Paris vibes. Not to mention, their currency is very strong.»
Aronov, who serves as the UJA’s Special Advisor for Community and External Relations, was the youngest attendee there, aside from those that brought their children. «We need to get more younger people involved,» he said.


On March 17, the delegation of the World Congress of Bukharian Jews returned to Israel. There, in the Binyanei Hauma Hall, Jerusalem, a tribute night was held in honor of the fallen soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, in the presence of 5,000 delegates of the 24th Conference of the World Congress of Bukharian Jews chaired by President Levi Leviev and with the personal participation of Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, who was recently a guest of the Bukharian Jewish community in New York.
On March 18, the group visited Kibbutz Be’eri, where Jack Abraham, one of the conference attendees, lived in the mid-1950s.
«Thank you very much to the organizers of the historical Baku and memorable Israel trip. The Sunday night concert and video in Jerusalem was uplifting, penetrating, emotional, and identifying with the victims and the Nation: ‘One heart, one soul, one people.,’» shared Abraham.
«Kibbutz Be’eri, my Kibbutz, where I lived from 1956-57, was devasted by the cruelty of savages. It was extremely sad walking the walk and seeing the scene where 93 members were killed and 36 taken as hostages. Be’eri will be rebuilt again, a testament to Jewish stamina and survival,» he said.
He then reflected on the rest of the October 7th horrors: «Nova: The festival where thousands gathered for fun, music and revelry was turned into a killing field by savages and barbarians—The victims will never be forgotten.’
And «Tekuma: A fertile field turned into a graveyard of victim’s charred and abandoned cars—A human travesty.
But things took a positive turn: «Ashdot Naval Base: An uplifting experience sponsoring polov, barbeque, music and dancing for the brave soldiers. Expressing our everlasting gratitude to the soldiers for their service and our message to them: Our bodies are in America; our souls are in Israel and our hearts are with you.
«Thank you very much for safeguarding our Jewish Nation, Israel—A trip and experience never to be forgotten.