The Last Jews of Bukhara

An ancient community at risk of disappearing

Bukhara, that stunning caravan city located along the Silk Road in central Uzbekistan, former centre of a great empire, and possessor of architectural treasures, has a vast Jewish quarter, two synagogues, a Jewish school, a Jewish cultural association, and a Jewish cemetery containing thousands of tombs. The only thing missing in large numbers are the Jews.

Tradition, supported by 2200-year-old archaeological finds of the ruins of a synagogue in present-day Turkmenistan, dates the first settlement of Jews in Bukhara to the diaspora following deportation to Babylon in the VI century BCE. Another theory holds that the Jewish presence in the city is even older. It is said to date back to the lost tribes of Israel, exiled from their homeland in the VIII century BCE.

Whatever the truth may be it seems certain that Bukhara was the first Jewish establishment in Central Asia. From here, members of the community moved on to other cities like Samarkand, Tashkent, and the valley of Fergana, but they remained ‘Jews of Bukhara’, a term which, in reality, was coined by European travellers in the eighteenth century to define all of those Jews who lived in the territories belonging to the emirate of Bukhara.

The Jews who live in Bukhara today are conscious of this primordial role and of being seen as isolated from the other communities scattered throughout the world for centuries, and want to make sure that their history and traditions do not get lost. “Without history, you have no future,” Abram Ishakov, the current rabbi and president of the Jewish community of Bukhara—aside from being a fan of Celentano, Sophia Loren, and Sandro Mazzola—says. “Finding a way to preserve our history, our language, and our traditions is a great victory.”

( 2019 )