Brief history of Uzbek Jewry

MOSCOW, May 17 (JTA) — A large indigenous Jewish community — known as Bukharan Jews, after the Uzbek city of Bukhara — lived in what is now Uzbekistan for many centuries, involved in crafts and local and international trade. Beginning in the late 19th century, when the region fell under the Russian influence, Ashkenazi Jews from the European sections of Russia settled in the region as well. Many were engineers, doctors or lawyers, and they provided the area’s first generation of local intelligentsia. After the advent of communism and its war on religion, Jews in Uzbekistan, like those in the other remote parts of the Soviet Union, found it easier to keep their traditions alive than did Jews in the European part of the Bolshevik empire. There, Jewish religion and traditions were subject to persecution. Many religiously observant Jewish families took advantage of the area’s relative religious freedom, living Jewish lives and educating their children in Judaism. That was particularly true of the Lubavitch Chasidim who came to the area both before and after World War II, either because they had been sent into exile or because they had fled there to avoid Communist repression. The community grew substantially during World War II with the arrival of thousands of Ashkenazi Jewish refugees and evacuees from Nazi-occupied parts of the Soviet Union. The two communities, Bukharan and Ashkenazi, still retain their distinctive features, and they rarely intermarry. Most Bukharan Jews, who value the tradition of living as extended families, emigrated to Israel or the United States in the 1970s and in the years following the collapse of communism in 1991.

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