The Last Jews of Uzbekistan

Sept. 17 2018

The former Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan is home to the three great Silk Road cities of Central Asia—Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara. Since the early Middle Ages, these cities have been home to Jewish communities; their descendants, who now mostly live in Israel or the Rego Park neighborhood of Queens, are known generally as Bukhari Jews after the most prominent of these communities. During the Soviet era, significant numbers of Ashkenazi Jews—along with people of many other ethnicities—were deported to, or settled in, Uzbekistan. Armin Rosen, returning from a visit to Uzbekistan after having spent Rosh Hashanah in the capital of Tashkent, reports on what remains of the country’s Jews:

Uzbekistan . . . was under one of the most brutish and vacuous dictatorships of any post-Soviet state. The Jews of Bukhara were never violently liquidated, but they didn’t really have an easy run of things, either. [Now] there are just a few hundred Bukharan Jews left in Bukhara.

Samarkand is four dusty and potholed hours down the road from Bukhara. There had been Jews there for centuries before the local boy Tamerlane, [the 14th-century ruler who tried to revive Genghis Khan’s empire], rampaged through much of the known world. . . . Only when standing between the three ecstatically-tiled portals of the [old city square], or meditating on the sublime proportions of the Bibi-Khanym mosque, is it possible to imagine Samarkand being the capital of an empire spanning from Kabul to the Bosphorus. . . .

A door in a metal gateway abutting the hideous modern plaza across from the Bibi-Khanym mosque leads to a warren of zig-zagging residential streets and the remains of Samarkand’s old city. A passage little wider than an alleyway reveals the fat dome of the late-19th-century Gumbaz Synagogue, its interior decorated in a dazzling blue floral pattern. Inside the sanctuary, it feels as if the dome encompasses the entirety of the room. The space is compact yet airy, a minor miracle of sacral architecture crammed into a tiny footprint.

On the early Friday evening that I visited, a wiry and nearly elderly fellow was praying in the courtyard just outside the shul’s doors. Chickens scurried around the opposite end of the compound. In halting Hebrew, I explained that I was visiting from New York and wanted to know if anyone else would be coming. In somewhat less halting Hebrew, he explained that he prayed at this synagogue three times a day, often alone.

He didn’t expect there to be much of crowd on Rosh Hashanah, either.

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More about: Bukharan Jews, Central Asian Jewry, History & Ideas, Jewish World, Synagogues

Hizballah Prepares for War, and UN Peacekeepers Do Nothing

Dec. 10 2018

According to last year’s UN Security Council Resolution 2373, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)—the peacekeeping force created after the Second Lebanon War to keep both Israel and Hizballah out of southern Lebanon—is authorized “to take all necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces, and as it deems within its capabilities, to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind.” If anything ought to rouse UNIFIL to action, writes Elliott Abrams, it should be the IDF’s recent discovery and destruction of tunnels dug by Hizballah to move troops into the Galilee:

The existence of these tunnels, dug from precisely the area of southern Lebanon that UNIFIL is meant to patrol, means that this area is indeed “utilized for hostile activities.” What, then, is the meaning of [UNIFIL’s statement in] response that it “will communicate its preliminary findings to the appropriate authorities in Lebanon”? The meaning is that UNIFIL will likely do nothing.

UNIFIL is not supposed to be merely a means of communication, or the Security Council would have bought cell phones instead of paying for a military force. Moreover, there are no “appropriate authorities” in Lebanon; if there were, Hizballah would never have been able to dig its tunnels.

The tunnels are hardly the only brazen Hizballah violation of the Security Council resolutions undertaken right under UNIFIL’s nose. Consider this: Hizballah is blocking roads in southern Lebanon to smooth the path of missiles it is moving into the area. . . . Then there is the village of Gila, just north of the Israeli border, where there is a Hizballah headquarters and according to the Israelis about twenty warehouses with weapons, combat positions, lookout points, and dozens of underground positions. All this was built in an area supposedly patrolled by UNIFIL. . . .

This is a test of UNIFIL and its new commander, [Stefan Del Col, who took over in August]. “Communicating” to “appropriate authorities” is a euphemism for doing nothing at all. Hizballah is preparing for war. UNIFIL is supposed to get in its way. If it cannot hinder Hizballah’s war preparations in any way, and is even ignorant of them, UNIFIL is a waste of time and money.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Lebanon, United Nations