Muslim Couple Preserves Remnants of Jewish Life in Uzbekistan

Few Bukharan Jews Remain in Central Asian Land

On the Silk Road: The famous Kalyan Mosque in Bukhara, Uzbekistan.
Jacopo Jakuza Romei/wikimedia commons
On the Silk Road: The famous Kalyan Mosque in Bukhara, Uzbekistan.

By Alanna E. Cooper

Published December 30, 2013, issue of December 27, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

This time I was serving as a scholar-in-residence for a tour organized by Jewish Historical Seminars, an Israel-based organization founded by the late Hebrew University professor Yom Tov Assis. Forty individuals from America and Israel joined this particular journey to the cities in Uzbekistan that once had a large Jewish presence, including Bukhara, Tashkent and Samarkand.

One of our visits was to the Jewish mahallah. In the 1990s, when Jews still lived in the area, tourists were unlikely to venture into this neighborhood’s narrow alleyways. Today though, the Jews are gone, and the area that was once their home is dotted with bed-and-breakfasts, shops and restaurants that beckon the tourist into the intimate zones of urban life.

Once out-of-the-way and unassuming, Akbar House now announced itself with a bold-lettered sign, accompanied by a red arrow that directed tourists to the entrance. My group followed these signs, just a few paces into the Jewish neighborhood, and came upon an open door.

Mastura welcomed us into her courtyard, green with the foliage of well-tended potted plants, and cool from the breeze that blows through the portico. At first, I did not recognize the home.

We beheld the windows and doors that encircled us, each leading to a different compartment of the expansive home. With our translator-guide beside her, Mastura stood before the group, and explained that her home had once been inhabited by the Ibragimovs and the Yasayovs, two Jewish families. She herself — a Tajik Muslim — was a dear friend of these two families. When the Soviet Union dissolved and the wave of migration began, the families packed their belongings and sold their home to Mastura and her husband.

After the pair moved in, our host continued, they spent much time and energy restoring the home to its former glory, while carefully preserving its historic features. She ushered us out of the courtyard, through a small hallway and into the house.

Entering the salon, we were greeted by dramatic ceilings and elaborate wall décor that included intricate abstract design, as well as ornate Hebrew lettering. We focused on the dedication painted by the home’s first owner who inscribed his name only as “David.” He built the house in 1898, and was among the well-traveled nouveau riche Jewish merchant class, which made its fortune as the economy boomed under Russian colonial rule. We sat on rugs and pillows around the perimeter of the room, where the family had once celebrated its Shabbat and holiday meals.

My fellow tourists were riveted by the layers of history that filled this space. And there was more: Mastura’s husband collected ritual items that had been used by the Jews who had once lived in Bukhara: old books, synagogue artifacts, and even scrolls of the sacred Torah. Some of these items, Mastura pointed out, were on display in one of the room’s many niches


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.