While the term Bukhari is generally used to describe members of Central Asia’s long-established Jewish communities and their descendants, many come from other places than the historical Silk Road metropolis of Bukhara in modern-day Uzbekistan. One important center of Bukhari Jewry was once Khujand in Tajikistan, which at its height had a Jewish population of several thousand. On January 15, Khujand’s last Jewish resident, Jura Abaev, died at the age of eighty-three. Farangis Najibullah and Farzon Muhammadi write:
A retired factory worker, Abaev was also the last rabbi of Khujand’s only synagogue until it was closed in 2015 after having been empty since the 1990s. There were an estimated 15,000 Jews in Tajikistan in the late 1980s, but most of them left the Central Asian country after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Among those who left were Abaev’s five adult children and their families, his half-sister, and many friends and relatives.
Born into the Khujand family of a factory-worker father and a mother who was a theater actress, Abaev experienced many hardships as a child, including his parents’ divorce, deep poverty, and hunger during World War II.
Since 1967, Abaev had been the rabbi of Khujand’s synagogue, just a stone’s throw away from his house. His duties included conducting funerals, safekeeping the synagogue’s only copy of the Torah, and taking care of the house of worship. During the Soviet era, the religious practices of all faiths were under strict government control, while the organized practice of faith was almost nonexistent.
The first Jews are said to have settled in Khujand in the Middle Ages after coming to the city as merchants and tradesmen. The community, which shares a language and culture with the Tajiks, began to increase significantly in the 19th century when dozens of Jewish families moved to Khujand from the nearby city of Bukhara. . . . At its height in the 1940s, Tajikistan’s Jewish community was estimated to be around 30,000, with the majority of them living in Dushanbe and Khujand.