By Erin Levi

A seasoned journalist, a passionate philanthropist, and a connector at heart – Dr. Judith Friedman Rosen, aka Judy Rosen, embodies the spirit of community building, not only among the Jewish people but across all faiths. In my exclusive interview with her, we delve into her experiences bridging the gap between the Ashkenazi and Bukharian Jewish communities in Queens, New York, offering unique insights and personal anecdotes.
A longtime resident of Forest Hills, Judy paints a vivid picture of Queens’ evolving Jewish landscape, recalling a time when the community was predominantly Ashkenazi. With the arrival of Bukharian Jews in the 90s, she recognized the opportunity for cultural exchange and inclusivity. While acknowledging initial hiccups and navigating sensitivities, Judy emphasizes her efforts to welcome newcomers and forge connections.
Despite acknowledging some lingering cultural and financial divides, Judy underscores the importance of unity in the face of rising antisemitism. The collaborative effort to build a Holocaust Memorial in Queens stands as a powerful testament to this shared struggle and commitment to remembrance—and will leave readers of the Bukharian Times feeling hopeful and inspired.
I’m elated to have her as my neighbor.
Erin: Hi Judy. Nice to meet you, finally. You’re in Florida?
Judy: I am.
Erin: That’s nice. It must be warm.
Judy: No, it hasn’t been. I think today’s a little warmer, but I’m hot. If I had the doors open, it would be cooler, but I don’t want the noise and it is sort of overcast. The weather hasn’t been good, but it’s worse where you are. You’re not in New York City, right?
Erin: No, I’m in Connecticut where I grew up. But I’ve lived in New York, too.
Judy: Where about in Connecticut?
Erin: I’m in near Westport, in Weston.
Judy: I have a home in Ridgefield where I spend the summers.
Erin: That’s very close to me! Ridgefield is so nice.
Judy: I’m on the Ridgefield-Danbury border right off Route 7, in the heart of the Jewish community there (or what was) called Lake Waubeeka that was started by Jewish firemen in the early 1950s.
Erin: Jewish firemen? I didn’t know there was such a thing. (Laughs.)
Judy: You learn things all the time.
Erin: Tell me more.
Judy: Here’s a fun fact: One of the founders was this man by the name of Sidney Klein. And Sidney Klein had a daughter who grew up to be Carole King. And I have a girlfriend who used to hang out with her when she was young there at the lake.
Erin: No way! Carole King is from Connecticut?
Judy: From Brooklyn.
Erin: Of course…
Judy: But these were Jewish firemen from the Bronx and the Brooklyn (from the New York City Jewish Fire Department organization) that were looking for a place outside of the city were doing so because it was the 50s during the polio epidemic. And that’s how they wound up buying land by Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, CT.

Erin: I can’t believe this story – and that it’s in my own backyard!
Judy: Turns out, our synagogue, Congregation Mount Moses, isn’t named after the prophet Moses! It’s named after the hill it sits on. Back in the day, this very hill was part of the Underground Railroad, a secret path that helped slaves reach freedom. Just like Moses guided his people out of Egypt, people escaping slavery walked this path. So, our synagogue name, Mount Moses, tells a story of freedom, reminding us to always fight for justice!
Erin: That’s doubly interesting. Where are you originally from?
Judy: I spent my childhood moving around! Born in Ohio, raised in Oklahoma, then a brief stint in Israel when I was 12 thanks to my dad’s Fulbright professorship at Hebrew University. He was a sedimentologist, by the way. After that, we settled in Troy, New York, where Dad became a geology professor at Rensselaer. You may know it as RPI.
Erin: Small world! A friend from high school studied there.
Judy: So then I had to suffer through junior high school and high school there. (Laughs) And after 11th grade, I escaped to New York where I went to Stern College.
Erin: And then you did your PhD at NYU, I see!
Judy: (Surprised) Did you do some internet sleuthing?
Erin: Just a peek at the Jewish Women’s Archive – they have a short, albeit impressive, piece on you!
Judy: Oh, I’ve written for them on various topics, alongside other projects. Back in the 90s, I even contributed to the Jewish Women’s Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia Judaica.
Erin: So after your PhD, were you mainly a journalist or did you stay in academia as well?
Judy: A bit of both! I taught at City University for a few years and published several articles. Look me up as Judith Friedman Rosen — you’ll find my work online. But honestly, my heart lies in philanthropy. For 30 years, I was deeply involved with the Central Queens Y, even serving as president and board chair for six years each. I poured my energy into it, and I’m proud of what we achieved together.
Erin: I know from reading your articles on Dubai and Ethiopia that you’re also very well-traveled.
Judy: Ah, the Ethiopian Jews. You really did your homework.
Erin: I was always a good student! But have you been to Uzbekistan or Central Asia?
Judy: It’s on my list. I want to go to Uzbekistan. (And I also want to go to Georgia.) And do you know what I want do? This is my secret wish. I want to see the architecture in Uzbekistan. Because then I’ll be able to compare it to what people have been building on the north side of Forest Hills. (Laughs)
Erin: (Laughs) Well, all I can say is that Uzbekistan is home to some of the most stunning structures in the world…
Judy: I am curious to see it.

Erin: So, Judy, when did you first encounter Bukharian Jews in Queens? Were they already established when you arrived in the 70s and 80s?
Judy: Not at all! Back then, the Jewish community in Queens was quite different. I remember being active in the free Soviet movement, even taking my kids to rallies in Washington. We saw many Jews from places like Ukraine and Moldova, but Bukharians were rare.
Erin: Interesting! So, when did they start arriving in larger numbers?
Judy: The 90s really marked a turning point. As president of the Central Queens Y, I noticed the lack of representation from Soviet Jews on our board. We held a conference and established a service center specifically for them— the Esther Grunblatt Russian Service Center, named after the wife of Rabbi Joseph Grunblatt, rabbi of the Queen’s Jewish Center on 108th Street. Interestingly, Rabbi Nisanov joined soon after, but the true influx of Bukharian Jews came later in the ‘90s.
Erin: What role did you play in welcoming them?
Judy: Well, before the Bukharians, I met this amazing man, Vladimir Epshteyn. (He calls me «Margaret Thatcher» of the Jewish people. We really admire each other.) A child Holocaust survivor and refusenik who was jailed until he received a US visa, he dedicated himself to helping Russian immigrants. By the time the Bukharians arrived, thanks to people like Vladimir, there were already support systems in place.
Erin: That’s wonderful! And how did the Queens community react to the new arrivals?
Judy: Honestly, it was a mixed bag. On one hand, we were thrilled to see the community revitalized, especially along 108th Street, after a lot of non-Jews started to move in. But concerns arose about it becoming «Little Bukhara,» leaving some longtime Jewish residents feeling displaced. (I remember when I moved to Forest Hills in the 1970s, at the suggestion of my aunt, it felt like I was moving to Jerusalem. There was so much ruach and life! That said, I was the first Jew on my block in Forest Hills Gardens. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights Acts in the ‘60s that they permitted Jews to live there.)
Erin: How did you navigate that balance?
Judy: I always emphasized inclusivity. Sure, Bukharian Jews brought amazing things like new kosher restaurants with Central Asian flavor — a big change from the Eastern European kosher restaurants that were there first, but I made sure the community remained open to everyone. I personally befriended many Bukharian Jewish individuals, like my son’s piano talented teacher and my wonderful hairdresser. And I count Svetlana Levitin as a dear friend, and am a big supporter of the Bukharian Boys Choir. Not to mention, I have a lot of Afghani Jewish friends, which is similar to Bukharian Jewish culture.
Erin: It sounds like you played a significant role in bridging the gap.
Judy: I like to think so! Ultimately, the arrival of Bukharian Jews enriched the Queens community in countless ways. We learned from each other, adapted, and grew stronger together.
The first person I met from that area was Rabbi Nahum Kaziev of Ohr Natan in Rego Park. He’s also the head of Druzhba. Do you know it?

Erin: The Russian Jewish magazine?
Judy: Yes, I was at his first wedding, and he was very nice. He was very energetic. He was involved with the Queen’s Jewish Community Council and he did a lot of programs at the Y during the ‘90s. And I spoke about how I was involved with the Soviet Jewry movement. And it turns out that I benefited from that because my son met a young woman whose parents were from Georgia. And he married her.
Erin: How wonderful! Speaking of culture, I know you recently ran into Rafael at a Bukharian restaurant. What do you think of Bukharian cuisine?
Judy: First of all, my husband loves lagman soup.
Erin: It is delicious!
Judy: And we appreciated the foods that Rafael brought by to our table, like the bread (non). But I was already familiar with the Bukharian bread because my family owns David Rosen Bakery Supply in Maspeth. We sell bakeries flour, sugar, shortening, etc. We’ve been doing this for four generations. So, I’ve been buying Bukharian bread for years. Also, my click from schul loves going to Bukharian restaurants, too.
Erin: Given this, how can Bukharian Jews and Ashkenazi Jews be closer to one another? This is something Rafael wanted me to ask you.
Judy: This is the big question. We’ve been welcoming, but we feel that they’re a little more insular. These days, they’re able to raise a lot of funds for themselves. [They don’t need us.] But when they first came to America, we were helping them because they were newcomers. But now they’re more into themselves, looking to perpetuate and build their community organizations.
Erin: Which is fair in terms of cultural preservation, but I understand your frustration. You want to be united as a community of Jews. Do you think there’s a linguistic barrier?
Judy: No, we all speak Hebrew and English. We have reached out to them, and I feel frustrated. And I mean this in the nicest way. Of course, we have our differences, mainly in our traditions — they have traditions that are more Sephardi than Ashkenazi. But even my rabbi happens to be a Sephardi who has adjusted to becoming more Ashkenazi. And we have a Sephardi Torah. The Bukharians do come once annually to our synagogue on Simchat Torah, and we go to them. But there’s never really a sitting down, meeting of the minds. This is unfortunate because our doors are open, and we want the community to remain Jewish and strong.

Erin: Is it a bit of a turf war?
Judy: It might be. But it shouldn’t be a money issue. The money should be for the entire community. We have to work closer together. But I believe we will. And I’ll tell you why.
Erin: Please do.
Judy: Because of the antisemitism, unfortunately. But it will bring us together. I’m speaking as of Vice President of the QJCC because I have that permission. One of our goals is to really fight antisemitism and speak up for the Jews, but also, this is something else that we are working together.
One day last year, my wonderful friend Vladimir Epshteyn called me up and said, «Judy, there is no Holocaust Memorial in Queens. There is one in Brooklyn, but I don’t know if there’s any public one in New York City at all.» And he says, «We have we have the design. We have the people from the former Soviet Union who want to build something.» He adds, «I’m a survivor myself.»
Determined to assist Vladimir, I declared, ‘I’m going to help you. We’re going to do this!’ I then contacted Michael Nussbaum, President of the Queens Jewish Community Council, emphasizing the project’s importance. I even had the perfect location in mind: the grounds of Queens Borough Hall. Michael readily agreed, and we arranged a meeting with Borough President Donovan Richards, involving former Council members Karen Kaslowitz and Barry Grodenchik, both formerly Deputy Board Presidents, along with Vladimir and Mayer Waxman, Director of the Queens Jewish Community Council, Michael, and representatives from the Borough President’s office. They were very enthusiastic about our proposal, and the Borough President said, «I love it! We’re definitely going to do it.» He even knew exactly where we could implement it: ‘We’ll do it outside where the old subway car used to be.»
The former tourist information center, a retired red subway car, wasn’t in service anymore. Dismantled and sunk into the ocean, it seemed lost forever. However, Mayor Waxman, Avi Weinberg from the Borough President’s office, and I saw an opportunity during a site visit. The location, originally occupied by the subway car, still had the railroad tracks intact. This sparked an idea! We envisioned incorporating the tracks into the new memorial design, paying homage to the car’s history. After gaining the Borough President’s approval, we presented the concept to Mayor Eric Adams, who enthusiastically endorsed it.
The project has undergone various reviews within Mayor Adams’ office and is currently awaiting final design approval. I believe the city’s design department is handling the last stage, and we’re optimistic about a positive outcome soon.
Fundraising has also begun! Interestingly, when I mentioned it to Rafael recently, he responded, «Oh, we’re working on that too!» It seems even others within the community were independently taking initiative, which thrilled me. This is truly a collective effort we can all be proud of.
Erin: The timing couldn’t be better, with rising antisemitism globally and here in the US.
Judy: Exactly! This memorial serves as a powerful symbol of remembrance and unity. It will be a significant achievement for the Jewish community, reminding us of our shared responsibility to combat intolerance.
In response to Rafael’s point, I firmly believe collaborating on this project will strengthen our community bonds. The excitement surrounding it is palpable, and we hope they’ll help raise money for it. Of course, because they have people who have done very well.
And lastly, this initiative promises to be not just a memorial, but a catalyst for deeper collaboration and community action. It’s going to be something we’ll work on together and I am truly excited about this prospect. Together we are strong because we are one.
And that’s what I do! I bring people, and different organizations together. That’s how I get things to happen. I’ve done that my whole life—at my synagogue, at the QJCC and JCRC, and serving on Community Board 6. Through my dedicated work with synagogues, community members, and city council, I established «Holocaust Corners» in Forest Hills to commemorate victims.
And now, I’m looking forward to working closely with the Bukharian Jewish Community to make the Holocaust Memorial — and many other things — happen.
Erin: Cheers to that. Thank you for your time, Judy!
Judy: Lastly, I’d just like to reiterate that Rafael is such a lovely man. I really like him very, very much. And we go to that restaurant a lot.
Erin: He is—a lovely colleague, too! I hope we can all meet in Forest Hills soon — or maybe even Ridgefield!