Translated, edited by Eli Takhalov, Erin Levi
These words best express the essence of the 11th charity evening in support of the Jewish Institute of Queens (JIQ), which took place on December 13 in the prestigious event venue Da Mikelle Illagio. This educational institution operates under the patronage of the President of the World Congress of Bukharian Jews Lev Leviev.
Fundraising is held every two years on one of the Hanukkah evenings, and this is significant because the holiday highlights one of the most significant themes in Jewish history: the struggle for Judaism at such a dramatic moment when powerful forces seek to extinguish it.
Hanukkah also serves another purpose: to mitigate ethnic tensions and help integrate more successfully into the surrounding society, which is particularly relevant in diaspora communities. And this can only be accomplished through the promotion of Jewish education. This is how the Jewish people have been preserved throughout their history.
JIQ is the initiative of the President of the World Congress of Bukharian Jews Lev Leviev. This is a vivid example of how important it is to take care of your people in the diaspora in a timely manner. Leviev opened the first tuition-free yeshiva in America, Queens Gymnasia, in New York in 2002 for the children of Jewish immigrants from Central Asia. Over time, the yeshiva became the JIQ, which now includes Ohr Chana, a yeshiva for girls in Flushing.
The year 2023 was notable. All plans for the development and strengthening of Israel and the Bukharian Jewish diaspora were reconsidered in light of the war initiated by Hamas against Israel that began on October 7. Among the thousands of victims of terror were many from our own community, not only civilians along the border south of the country, but also IDF soldiers and officers who courageously fought the terrorists. Many made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of Israel.
Our entire community has been living in a state of solidarity these days with the Jewish state, which became the victim of an insidious, brutal attack on its civilians, and this charitable event will go down in recent history of the Bukharian Jews of the world as a campaign of unity between Israel and the American diaspora.
Community leaders, guests from Israel, and parents whose children study in yeshivas of the JIQ system gathered in the crowded hall of Da Mikelle Illagio.
Renowned singers and musicians successfully created a unique atmosphere in which love for Israel, mourning for those who have perished, and pride for Jewish heroes was combined with the imperative to instill our children to love Jewish history, culture, Israel in order to stay true to the Jewish faith. After all, this serves as a remedy against assimilation, a wellspring of national unity and the responsibility of each individual for the future of the Jewish world.
For the first time, the musical part of the evening was opened by Bukharian Jewish singers. Yukhan Binaminov (Yuhan Benjamin) and Albert Narkallayev performed songs in Bukhori. The tables were so beautifully arranged and set as if it was a wedding of members of the family of Michael Zavolunov, co-owner of Da Mikelle Illagio.
The evening’s agenda was shaped by JIQ President Chagit Sofieva-Levieva, also CEO of Leviev Group USA, and her husband, Gregory Sofiev. They nominated the head of the Israeli mission to the UN, Gilad Erdan, for the award. He was celebrated that evening as an honored guest, a friend of the Bukharian Jewish community in Israel and the U.S.
«As Israel’s envoy to the UN, Mr. Gilad Erdan has been defending the right of the Jewish state to life for all these three years, constantly speaking out against anti-Semitism and against those who deny the Holocaust,» Chagit said from the podium. «As we celebrate the seventh evening of Hanukkah, we learn how a small candle can dispel the darkness.»
She recalled the words of one of the outstanding Jewish spiritual leaders of the 20th century, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who aptly defined the UN by calling the organization «the house of darkness.» And now, Sofieva-Levieva continued, there is Ambassador Gilad Erdan, who has become a ray of light who opposes lies and hypocrisy, staunchly defending Israel from the attacks of adversaries.
«When it comes to Israel, he is fearless and speaks the truth from a high platform. Loud and clear! It is with a sense of special pride that I invite the Head of Israel’s Mission to the UN, Ambassador Gilad Erdan, to the stage to present him with a Certificate of Merit from the Jewish Institute of Queens for his phenomenal work on behalf of his country and our people,» she announced.
Gilad Erdan’s entrance was accompanied by applause, and on stage the award was presented to him along with Chagit and Gregory by the President of the Center for Bukharian Jews Leon Nektalov and his wife Esther, and the director of the JIQ Rabbi Zalman Zavulunov.
Congratulating everyone on the holiday of Hanukkah and expressing gratitude to Lev Leviev, under whose patronage the JIQ operates, Ambassador Erdan emphasized the importance of the activities of Chabad in Israel and throughout the Jewish diaspora, where its representatives not only carry out religious services, but are also involved in the system of Jewish educational centers, schools, and kindergartens that promote the development of Jewish national identity.
He assured everyone that the people of Israel are invincible, and that no provocations by Arab terrorists can alter the course of history or the significance of the Jewish state — a bastion of democracy in the Middle East in its struggle for peace and prosperity in the region.
Gilad Erdan has already made UN history by becoming the first Israeli head of the Israeli diplomatic mission in this international organization. He called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to immediately resign due to his skewed and cynically biased assessment of the tragic events of October 7.
Then the Israeli ambassador said from the UN rostrum: «While all of Israel is being bombarded with rockets and people who are innocent of any wrongdoing are being killed, the Secretary-General is completely disconnected from the world, from the reality in our region, and he regards the massacre committed by Hamas terrorists in a distorted and immoral manner.»
As a rule, during fundraising, activists and community leaders who have contributed to strengthening the material well-being of the JIQ, and the Bukharian Jewish community itself, are recognized.
This year, the community honored a bright young leader, President of the Bukharian Law Association Leo Jacobs (Yakubov) and his wife Rada Yakubova. He was introduced to the community by a famous politician, member of the New York State Assembly, a great friend of the Bukharian Jewish community of New York, and a mentor to young Russian-speaking state politicians, Alec Brook-Krasny.
He noted Jacobs’ good organizational skills, his services to the community, high professional level, enormous authority among politicians and leaders of the city’s Jewish community and predicted his career as a politician who would take his rightful place in the political establishment of America.
The award for his active work and support of the JIQ was presented to him by Alec Brook-Krasny, President of the Center for Bukharian Jews Leon and Esther Nektalov, members of the World Congress of Bukharian Jews Michael and Victoria Borukhov.
Listening to lawyer Leo from the podium is always interesting and instructive. Seamlessly blending emotion and reason, he addresses the audience as members of his family—relatives united by love for the community and concern for the next generation.
Expressing gratitude to the founder of JIQ, President of the World Congress of Bukharian Jews Lev Leviev and his wife Olga, he emphasized what a priority it is today to support educational programs for the children of our community.
«Our children must be armed with serious knowledge and taught Jewish wisdom so that they can live, defend our values and be free and independent in their judgments,» he said from the podium.
Jacobs established the Bukharian Law Association to help aspiring lawyers in their professional activities and guide them to actively help their community.
His wife, Rada, has also been involved in charitable activities for many years.
«She, like a lighthouse, guides Bukharian women and youth to spiritual life,» Leo said, praising his life partner’s attributes and contributions.
Touching upon the tragic events of October 7 in Israel, he called on everyone to unanimously condemn the atrocities of terrorists and stated:
«Our collective voice is our strength. Tonight is not only a celebration, but also actions, and collective efforts can change the lives of the next generation. We pledge our support to the Jewish Institute of Queens, ensuring that the yeshiva will carry the light of Jewish education and upbringing to the next generation!»
Concluding his speech, Leo Jacobs thanked the leadership of the yeshiva for the high assessment of his activities.
I was pleased to see among the recipients Edward and Dora Mullokandov, who are constantly involved in many charitable events in our community. Their children studied at the JIQ and entered city colleges. The Mullokandovs were congratulated and awarded with a Certificate of Honor by the executive director of the World Congress of Bukharian Jews Yehuda Bloy and his wife, and board member of the Center for Bukharian Jews Boris Matatov and his wife Raya.
Among the recipients are also the spouses, Israel and Nelly Zaurov. Their children also study at the JIQ, and they are grateful to the leadership for the good upbringing and knowledge they receive in this yeshiva. Ilya is a famous businessman and jeweler, and his wife is a teacher. They have been in New York for over 20 years. The award was presented by Yehuda Aronov and Ilan Shamsiev.
With great attention, the participants of the charity evening listened to the address of the President of the World Congress of Bukharian Jews, Lev Avnerovich Leviev. Being a deeply religious man, he connected the events of October 7 with the eternal conflict described in the Torah—the confrontation between Jacob and Esau.
Emphasizing in his speech the importance of Jewish upbringing and education, Leviev gave an example from the life of one of the ideologists of modern terrorism, Leon Trotsky, whose birth name was Lev Davidovich Bronstein. He grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family and at the same time «became the person who caused great harm, becoming a symbol of evil: without Trotsky there would be no revolution,» Leviev said.
In fact, as the outstanding Jewish public figure of Russia, Rabbi Yaakov Isaevich Mazeh (1859-1924), said about his contemporary, «Revolutions are made by Trotskys, and Bronsteins pay for them.»
A student of an Orthodox yeshiva, Bronstein behaved inappropriately and over time became one of the prominent leaders of the communist revolution. Hundreds of millions of people not only in the USSR and Europe but throughout the world became victims of his anti-human ideology.
«All this would not have happened if he had shown ordinary human decency in the yeshiva where he studied.» Perhaps he would use his enormous energy for something useful. But this did not happen, Leviev said.
Using the example of Trotsky, he showed what it means to lack patience and the reluctance to follow the canons of Jewish education, as well as the desire to realize oneself in a semi-criminal milieu. Trotsky’s life ended with a blow from an ice pick, delivered by a terrorist sent by Stalin to Mexico.
In contrast to the communist leader, Leviev cited as an example the righteous life of Trotsky’s younger contemporary, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, thanks to whom millions of candles were lit in the souls of Jews around the world.
«He brought so much good to his people, so much chesed, so many mitzvot!» A man is capable of anything. Take this damned Hitler, Stalin, how many people were destroyed by them! They have one common ideology — the ideology of destruction.»
Lev Leviev concluded his address to the participants of the charity evening with a call to constantly strengthen Jewish schools and invest funds in the education of Jewish children, because «in the end, who our child will be depends on this.»
He recounted his experience of founding a yeshiva in New York in 2002, when he realized that 90% of children were in public schools. He opened Queens Gymnasia to immigrant children without thinking about how much the idea would cost.
«As of today, thousands of graduates have already become mothers and fathers themselves. Although not all of them turn out to be Orthodox Jews, the main thing is that they remember and know that there is an Almighty above them, there is the Torah!» he said.
In conclusion, Leviev expressed gratitude to all donors of the yeshiva, as well as to the mentors and teachers of the JIQ, led by the director, Rabbi Zalman Zavulunov, and Rabbi Itzhak Wolowik, who do a great job raising children in the right direction.
«Remember that your money is not wasted – it will go towards the Jewish education of the future generation. This is one of the main forms of tzedakah. May G-d grant peace to Israel. May all our enemies be destroyed! May this miracle happen!»
We must pay tribute to the organizers of the event, Rabbi Itzhak Wolowik. He invited people to New York who became heroes of the Simchat Torah War. One of them is Marik Yadgarov, who witnessed the brutal murder of his parents. Not only were they shot, but their lifeless bodies were also desecrated. Animals!
His speech was translated into English by Dr. Boris Yuabov, and every turn of events from those eight and a half hours of life-and-death struggle plunged us all into quiet horror. (Read the interview with Marik Yadgarov in this issue of the newspaper.)
When Rabbi Babayev recited the ashkava in memory of his parents, each participant lit a candle at the table.
Albert Narkallayev sang the song «Let’s Pray for Our Parents,» for Israeli hero Marik Yadgarov, and the lines «Let’s Pray for our parents, for all the living and the deceased. And at the hour when it gets colder, we will warm their souls with candles!» acquired a special meaning after Marik’s tragic monologue.
Rabbi Mosheev, whom I know from his work in Atlanta, spoke that evening about how he worked in Israel as part of a body identification and dignified burial service. It was impossible to listen without emotion to what he told about the events of October 7 and the following days, when it was necessary to deal with the victims of Arab terrorists, among whom were many of our fellow tribesmen.
During the evening, Rabbi Farkas read out the names of donors, of whom there were many in the hall of Da Mikele Illagio.
I sat next to my son and his wife Violetta. Three of my grandchildren are students at the JIQ. Every Saturday, they and their father attend the «Father and Son» program, which has been operating for many years at the Center for Bukharian Jews under the leadership of Rabbi Reuven Yusupov. This is an example of the impact that Lev Leviev, our Center, and the JIQ have had on a secular but traditional Bukharian Jewish family, such as the author’s.