Jews of Bukhara Helped Me To Understand Personal History

A Trip to Central Asia Informed Scholar's Research

Wayfaring Pilgrim: Alanna Cooper, author of Bukharan Jews and the Dynamic of Global Judaism, first traveled to Uzbekistan in 1993.
Courtesy of Alanna Cooper
Wayfaring Pilgrim: Alanna Cooper, author of Bukharan Jews and the Dynamic of Global Judaism, first traveled to Uzbekistan in 1993.

By Alanna E. Cooper

Published May 09, 2013, issue of May 10, 2013.
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These individuals, along with so many other merchants, pilgrims, emissaries, adventurers and exiles, belong to a sprawling network of travelers. Their movement — together with their conversations, sharing of texts, exchange of ideas and circulation of material culture — cultivated connections across the globe, allowing far-flung Jewish communities to remain bound to one another.

But that is not all. At the very end of the dictionary, I found the Wayfarer’s Prayer. This brief section appears in only one language: Hebrew. We travelers — we Jews — in motion for generations, praying for security in a shared language, traversing through space, hoping to reach our destinations in safety; we move, settle, flee, come together, build homes, migrate, reconnect, uproot and create community again. Home need not be construed as a place with concrete geographic coordinates.

My father’s cousins were like strangers to me, and I still know next to nothing about the town where my grandfather was raised, or the history of his particular branch of my family tree. At one point, this void in my family past loomed large. Now it has shrunken in size to become almost meaningless.

After all, my family’s root system does not reach down, but stretches outward to encompass the globe. It connects me to the man who sold me the dictionary of six languages that now sits on my bookshelf. And it connects me to that man’s forebear, who bought the book a century ago to aid him on his travels through the Jewish world.

Separated by generations and continents, he and I belong to the same far-flung global Jewish community and share a single, expansive home.

Alanna E. Cooper is a cultural historian and author of “Bukharan Jews and the Dynamics of Global Judaism” (Indiana University Press).

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