Can there be just one Alphabet for Juhuri?

In 2005, the monthly journal, Kavkazskaya Gazyetta, began a series of articles called, “The Round Table.” In that series, both authors and non-authors wrote their deeply felt beliefs about which of the four historical alphabets of Juhuri would be the best one for everyone to be able to read. The four alphabets are, chronologically, Hebrew, Latin, Cyrillic, and Azerbaijani-Cyrillic. (The Hebrew alphabet was no longer printed after the Latin alphabet was devised. The Latin alphabet has two forms: the earlier one, formulated in 1929, and the modern Azerbaijani Latin alphabet, used today.) Several writers communicated their hope that early literature would all be transferred into one alphabet. But which one? More than one writer lamented that all Mountain Jews would never be able to learn any one alphabet. Or maybe the youth could learn a new alphabet, but the older generations could not. There were unvoiced fears: the youth wouldn’t even try to learn the language of their parents, if books were published in an alphabet that they did not know. People feared that, if the collection of Juhuri literature were no longer used, then the Mountain Jewish culture would likewise disappear.

The articles were valuable in that people took the time to express the reasons why they preferred one alphabet over another. However, there was no final agreement as to which alphabet was best. Following are some quotes that describe the problem:

  • The question is, which letters are to be used if each and every Mountain Jew has an alphabet of his own? (Rivka Israilova, September 2005)
  • … we people of the older generation should try to come to some consensus, in order that our language would not be sunk in the River Lyeta [a mythological river in Hades, where one river is for the forgotten dead], and so that it would be saved for our posterity. (Peter Agarunov, September 2005)
  • It was fate that my Mountain Jewish people, though small, is spread all over the globe. So what about the language? It goes without saying that it must be preserved. If we lose our language, we will lose ourselves. Our nation will be dissolved and disappear. (Mikhail Gavrilov, September 2005)

I am of the opinion that there cannot be just one alphabet used for Juhuri. Our ability to understand what we read is linked to the letter forms we see on a  page. Some people have the ability to read different alphabets and still understand the words. But most people do not. For this reason, Der Imidi has published “The Book of Jonah” in the three major alphabets of Juhuri. We plan to add a Hebrew alphabet version to our list; this will be for those who learn Hebrew as their fist literary language. For the Latin alphabet, we have chosen to use the modern Azerbaijani Latin, and not the early Latin. (I apologize for this choice to Michael Y. Agarunov, who has published his father’s dictionary in the older Latin. It was his father, Yakov M. Agarunov, who first created a Latin alphabet for Juhuri.) We have chosen the modern Latin, because the younger people in Azerbaijan will be able to easily read only this alphabet.

We have a problem: it is expensive to publish books in three or four alphabets. Der Imidi Publishing, Inc., published and printed “The Book of Jonah” in three alphabets, but that is a very small book. We hesitate to publish “Genesis” the same way. On our internet pages, it is simpler. We can publish separate versions of a book as .PDF files; without the cost of printing on paper. For now, this is our plan. You will notice that “The Book of Jonah” has one version prepared, so far: it is in Juhuri Cyrillic with the Russian translation of footnotes and other additions. We plan to continue to publish side-by-side translations, because there are many Mountain Jews who are losing their ability to understand the language. There are also people like me, who are beginning to learn Juhuri. The side-by-side translation will help both groups of people.