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J.D.B. News Letter

Buchara Jews, once Cotton Growers, Seek to Reestablish Themselves on the Land (By our Special Correspondent)

The mode of life of the Buchara Jews is similar to that of the Moslems. They dress in the same way, only their hats differing from those of their Moslem neighbors.

The Buchara Jews speak Tadzikith, which is a corrupted version of Persian. The Moslems also speak Tadzikith. The Jews of Buchara, together with those who live in the other parts of Turkestan, number about 40,000. The region where the Jews live is bordered by the cities Kazlinsk, Merf, Osh and Dushambay (Hissar).

The Jews were the first to begin the export of cotton. The Moslem natives had previously raised only enough cotton for their needs. They started to develop this highly important branch of agriculture a long time before Turkestan was conquered by Russia. Later, in 1885, the Russians brought expert cotton men from America. Up to 1890 Turkestan exported to Russia more than one million poods of cotton. The first great cotton growers were Jews. The first to export the cotton were the Vaadiulim brothers, Raphael Poteliakhoff, Aba Mala and others.

The Jews built up the cotton growing industry. In 1917, 600 diesatin were sown with cotton and the export to Russia reached 13.000,000 poods, while all Russia, including Poland, needed 24,000,000 poods for its industries. During the last years the Jews supplied more than fifty percent of all the cotton exported, although they formed less than half of one percent of the population.

With the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution, the plight of the Jews became bad. The economic position of the Jews sank. Their sources of income dried up. Many Jews were killed. Everything they possessed was taken away from them. In the City of Kokastand, district of Fergana, the center of wealth and cotton, and the city of Chissar Kashi, Kusar and Toshkent, many wealthy Jews were killed. Others escaped to Europe. They hope that something will be done to develop cotton growing in Palestine so that many of the Buchara Jewish growers will be able to settle in Palestine.

Before the revolution the Jews were compelled to dress in such a way that they should be readily recognized as Jews. They had to wear a black hat and their overcoat had to be tied around with a rope. They were never allowed to ride in a coach or on horseback when they passed through a town or village.

Many Russian Jews came to Buchara as soldiers of the Russian army. Other Jews came as merchants. Both the Russian and the Buchara Jews kept aloof from each other. There were two reasons for this, first, the Buchara Jews are ignorant and pious. They neither liked nor understood the ways of the Russian Jews who dressed like Europeans, spoke Russian and shaved their beards. Too, the Russian Jews cared little for their Buchara brethren who looked to them like Asiatics. The Zionists who came to Buchara acted differently. They established schools and carried on cultural work among the adults. They found the Jewish people eager to learn. Unfortunately, their good work was stopped by the revolution which broke out in 1920.

There is no trace of sanitation in Turkestan. Many kinds of diseases are always rampant, especially those affecting children. When an epidemic breaks out, it takes its toll to the full. In 1921 there was an epidemic of typhus. 1175 Jews died that year in the city of Samarkand alone.

During the revolution many Buchara Jews left for Palestine where they settled in the Buchara section, Rehoboth, in Jerusalem. Many of them bought orange groves. Even in Palestine the Buchara Jews keep themselves apart from the European Jews. The leaders of the Buchara Jews are very pious and the others follow them.

The Jews who remained in Buchara have turned to soil tilling under the economic stress. The government gave them some land, but it is of a very inferior grade, mostly desert land or swamps infested with malaria. As these lands were taken away from the Moslem inhabitants, the hatred between the two groups has been intensified.

A representative of the Buchara Jews went to Moscow to ask aid of the Joint Distribution Committee in helping them organize their new agricultural settlements. No action has been taken so far.

The future of Buchara Jews lies in agriculture, as the Bolsheviki have destroyed all other avenues of income. Five hundred Buchara Jewish families have settled on the land. They see their salvation from poverty in cultivating the land. American Jews can do much to save them from annihilation. The help must be along the lines of agriculture. Large tracts of land, known as “new irrigated” lands have recently been reclaimed by the government, It would be preferable for the Jews to be granted this land. Little help can be expected from the government which is poor and could not give aid even if it desired to.

No definite data is available on the origin of the Buchara Jews. None of the non-Jewish historians mention them. Only legends concerning them are told by the elders of Buchara.

About 400 years ago the wife of the king of Buchara had no children. The king consulted doctors but to no avail Then someone told him that in Meshed there lived a Jewish doctor who could cure the queen of her sterility. The king and his wife went to Meshed and soon after their return the queen gave birth to a child. The king wished such a learned doctor to live in his kingdom and he promised to fulfill all the wishes of the Jew, if he would only settle in Buchara. The doctor was a pious Jew and he refused to go to Buchara where there were no Jews and where he would be unable to have a Minyan for prayer. The king then offered to bring to Buchara ten Jews who constituted the beginnings of the Jewish community there.

The immigrant Jews introduced into Buchara silk weaving and textile dyeing, which occupation they pursued up to the present time. The Moslems learned these trades from the Jews. At first only the heads of the Jewish families came to Buchara. Later, when they decided to remain, they brought their children and their wives. The present generation of Jews in Buchara are the descendants of these immigrants, the elders assert.

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