Sustaining tradition: Bukharian Jewish community dedicates center

It’s easy to miss the small white house with blue trim nestled next to a plant nursery on Glendale Avenue between Seventh and 12th streets in Phoenix.

But for the 600-700 Bukharian Jews living in the Valley, the building symbolizes a way to preserve their national traditions and religious rituals, says Tamara Babekov, a founder of the Bukharian Jewish Community of Phoenix.

On Sept. 24, the group celebrated the opening of its new center at 1002 W. Glendale Ave., the culmination of a joint effort. From electrical wiring and painting to carpet installation, members donated their time and professional services.

“Every single nail is donated,” says Mikhail Samandarov, whose family moved to Phoenix nine years ago – one of the first three families to move to Phoenix from Bukhara. Some 250-300 Bukharian Jewish families now live in the Valley.

Bukharian Jews come from Central Asia, near Afghanistan, in and around the nation of Bukhara. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many immigrated to the United States, Canada and Israel.

The sense of community was evident in preparations before the dedication ceremony as men and women set up tables and chairs outside, chopped cucumbers and tomatoes and stirred giant pots of rice pilaf, a traditional dish made from rice, vegetables, beef and spices.

Community members donated all food and drinks.

The inauguration included attaching a mezuza to the doorpost; speeches in Russian by board members; and a ceremony dedicating a Torah from Russia, a gift from Boris Kandov, president of the Congress of Bukharian Jews of the U.S.A. and Canada.

At the ceremony, Kandov presented traditional robes to Boris Uvaydov, the president of the Phoenix Bukharian Jewish Community, and Boris Gilkarov of the Los Angeles Bukharian Jewish Community, who attended the celebration.

An earlier Bukharian synagogue in Phoenix, Congregation Ahavat Torah, was organized by Boruchay and Raya Davrayev in 1998. They ran services in their home until moving to New York earlier this year.

In the interim between locations, the Chabad-Lubavitch Center in Phoenix provided the community with a place to hold services, and the community is “very grateful” for Rabbi Zalman Levertov for his help with its development, says Samandarov.

Rabbi Nissan Rubinov of Los Angeles led the group’s recent High Holiday services in its new building. Religious leader Yakov Abramov leads Friday night and Saturday morning services and morning and evening minyans during the week.

The community center, founded by Babekov, Gregory Shamsiev, Nancy Ishakov and Uzik Babadzanov, will assist newly arrived immigrants, educate children in customs and traditions, assist the aged and senior retired community, publish a community newspaper and create an ensemble of folk song and dance, Babekov says.

“Our wish is to develop as a Bukharian nation within American Jewry,” Babekov says. “All of the members of the community are working; the youth attend schools, yeshivas and colleges. Our community is doing its best in searching the means for the development of our nation, but it is not enough. That is why we would be very much obliged and thankful to those people who would give us help and advice in the creation of our cultural center.”

The Glendale Avenue site accommodates three buildings – a sanctuary, a house next door now being rented out, and a one-room apartment in the rear.

This article first appeared in the Oct. 20, 2002 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

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