If you’re not from the region and you’re not a Near East cultural scholar, chances are that when you think about Persian Jews, you either go all the way back to the Book of Esther, or you think about the Jews of Tehran and Isfahan. But there’s another vast community of Persian speaking Jews in Central Asia and beyond: Bukharan Jews.
Living primarily in what are now Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan—with thriving communities in Jerusalem and New York City—Bukharan Jews (also called Bukharian or Bukhari) speak Bukhori, also called Judeo-Tajik, a specific dialect of the Tajik-Persian language that includes Hebrew words.
The origin of Bukharan Jewish history is not wholly documented; some Bukharans trace their beginnings to the Israelites who settled in the region after the end of Babylonian captivity in 539 B.C.E. Still others claim to stem from the Lost Tribes of Israel.
Whatever the origins, the rest of Bukharan Jewish history is similar to broader Jewish history. Granted citizenship, denied citizenship, the community’s withstood exile, Zoroastrianism, Ghenghis Kahn, Tzarist Russia, the Bolshevik Revolution, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Islamic fundamentalism. Through it all, the Bukharan community has stayed intact with tenacity, adaptation, and faith.