Almost a half century ago, in 1975, I arrived in this great land to pursue my education at two distinguished universities in the nation’s capital, Washington, D. C. I am believed to be the first Soviet-born Bukharian Jew to successfully complete his studies at the nation’s top institutions of higher learning. Specifically, I earned my B.A. in Economics from Gallaudet University in 1979 and went on to achieve my M.A. degree in International Affairs from the American University in 1981.
One day – on December 27, 1977 – during my school’s winter break, I travelled to New York City with a purpose in mind. My goal was to personally meet Ilyusha Issakhar Khan and convey my heartfelt gratitude for the scholarship support he had generously provided on my behalf.

Through Hanan Benjamini, a notable Bukharian Jewish diamond merchant and prominent leader of the then small and growing Bukharian Jewish Community Center (BJCC) in Queens, my visit to the fashionable and spacious apartment building on Fifith Avenue in Manhattan to meet Ilyusha Issakhar Khan was arranged.

In preparation for our meeting, Benjamini took the initiative to phone Issakhar Khan in advance, informing him about my complete deafness handicap. He advised him to speak with me slowly so I could read his lips clearly. When I first entered his cozy apartment, furnished to the highest European standards, the first thing Issakhar Khan asked me was whether I knew the Bukharian language. I replied, living in the Soviet Uzbekistan, I had not seen a single book written in Bukharian, so we spoke in Russian and English.
Somehow, two hours passed unnoticed with Ilyusha Issachar Khan, from whom I gleaned many fascinating insights into the history of Bukharian Jews in the 20th century—not to mention his storied life. Perhaps, in time, someone will create a film dedicated to his legendary existence.

His real name at birth was Iliyavu ben Hiskiya Issakharov and he was born in 1890 in Samarkand. His parents were Hodji Hizkiya and Rachel Issakharov. They had 10 children—seven sons, including Ilyusha, and three daughters. Ilyusha’s wife was Lelya Davidov, whose parents were Yusuf and Miriam Davidov from Tashkent. Ilyusha and Lelya had two daughters named Tamara and Margarita.
When I asked him what kind of professional and public work he had and how he got the distinguished title name of «Khan,» he shared the following:

«I was not only a civic leader, but also a businessman. I had rug, jewelry, and diamond trading ventures in various cities worldwide: Kabul, Samarkand, Kokand, Berlin, Paris, London, Buenos Aires, and others. I also was actively engaged in Zionist activities by organizing two big conferences in Bukhara in 1914 and Kokand in 1916. Before and after the 1917 October Revolution in Russia, I encouraged all Jews to emigrate to Palestine. I had long and warm relationship with the King of Afghanistan and his family. And it was the King who valued our close friendship and who gave me the honorary title name of ‘Khan’.»
Before we ended our conversation, I asked him which moments in his life in the United States of America he was especially proud of and he replied:

«First, my beloved daughter Tamara and her husband Ira Guilden were acting as co-hosts at a dinner in 1971 in honor of Golda Meir, then the Prime Minister of the State of Israel, and two years later, in 1973, they organized a memorial service tribute for David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, in front of 19,000 people at Madison Square Garden. By the way, my son-in-law Ira Guilden was a New York investment banker and financier who was a major supporter of Israel’s economic and cultural development. He also was a long-time chairman of the Board of the Israel Bonds Organization.
«Second, with the help of my brethren-in-arms Hanan Benjamini, Yakov Harel, Rachamim Borochoff, Igal Chozahinoff and others, the founding of the Bukharian Jewish Community Center in the Queens area took place in 1963.»
And, fittingly, that same year, Issakhar Khan was named its first president. A year after our meeting, on December 26, 1978, Ilyusha Issahar‐Khan, a great human being and deeply revered son of our always close-knit Bukharian Jewish community, passed away. Last year, 2023, marked 45 years since he left this world, and 60 years since the creation of the BJCC in Queens.

Rafael Pinkhasov Pinchas