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February 03, 2003

Farewell to an Ancient Minority in Central Asia

Once again, the Wandering Jews. This time it is The Bukharans: the Jews of Central Asia in many cases leaving their homes because of a resurgence of Islamization.
(...) No one knows when Jews first arrived in Central Asia. Many scholars believe they fled to the region 2,500 years ago when the Babylonians conquered Israel. Their name stems from Bukhara, another Uzbek city that was once a center of Central Asian Jewish life. They speak a distinct language, known as Judeo-Tajik, and traditionally worked as skilled tradesmen, mostly as weavers and cloth-dyers.

Over the centuries, they developed customs and rituals that differ from those of Jews in Europe, the Mediterranean, and present-day Iran. "A lot of times, people assume they're Sephardic, but they're not at all Sephardic. They comprise a separate cultural group of Jews," says Theodore Levin, an ethnomusicologist at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

Once they leave, many Bukharans have trouble in their new surroundings. "Their communities and families have been splintered in the process of immigration," says Alanna Cooper, an anthropologist who has done extensive fieldwork on Bukharans in Uzbekistan, the US, and Israel. "The values and expectations are really different in the West than in Uzbekistan."

"With TV and movies, assimilation here comes very quickly," says Mr. Aronov, who he says he emigrated "to join my family." [more]