On Sunday evening, inside JFK Terminal 4 Arrivals area, about 40 adults and children gathered. Among them were both family members and strangers, united in anticipation. They held balloons and homemade signs, eagerly awaiting the return of Jeremy Sofiev from Israel.
Jeremy is more than just a traveler; he’s a hero—a Bukharian Jewish American hero.
It’s rare for Americans to fight in the IDF, and even more so for Bukharian Americans. According to Jeremy’s mother, Deborah Sofiev, she believes he’s among the only Bukharian Americans in the IDF. (There are Bukharian Israelis, and other Bukharians, including one from Azerbaijan who tragically died during the war.)
«Many of us moved to America to avoid sending our kids to the army,» explained Deborah.
Despite growing up in Queens, Jeremy always dreamt of one day joining the IDF. Much to his family’s concern, he made good on his word and deferred from college after being accepted into UPenn, a university that’s currently stained by antisemitism. After his initial year in Israel, he asked for a two-year extension so he could enroll into the IDF. It was during this time that October 7th happened. Jeremy, a paratrooper, was among the first to be sent into Gaza, and among the last to leave.

When his mother got the «dreadful call,» she was beyond devastated. «It was the worst moment of my life,» recalled Deborah, who endured over 100 days without any communication with her son. During those agonizing months, she relied on her inner strength and connection to G-d, increasing her spiritual practices (thanks to guidance from her friend Diana Iskhakov) and philanthropic activism, to navigate the uncertainty and fear of not knowing her son’s well-being, and if or when she’d see him again.
As soon as he emerged at JFK, following a long journey that nearly didn’t happen (Israel closed the airspace 20 minutes after his plane departed because Iran launched a missile attack,) the crowd erupted into cheers and teers, igniting an electric atmosphere charged with emotion. Jeremy rushed into the waiting arms of his mother, who was wearing an IDF beret, and his grandma, tears glistening on her cheeks. Then someone pressed play on the boombox, and dancing circles ensued. Within minutes, Jeremy was raised up high, as if it were his wedding or Bar Mitzvah. This, somehow, was even more joyous. The air pulsated with excitement, marking the long-awaited homecoming of a son, brother, and grandson, who had bravely served on the frontlines in Gaza, to the warm embrace of his family and friends.
«I’ve never seen a welcome like this,» said Eunice Nathan of Kew Gardens, who heard about Jeremy’s return via a WhatsApp group called «Welcome back NEVUT Chayalim» of which there are nearly 600 members. The group, created by Heshie and Rebecca Reiss, helps welcome back soldiers by visiting airports around the NYC area and beyond. She was impressed by the show of family, the news crews, and jubilance.

‘This isn’t typical’

The evening continued at the Chabad in Northeast Queens, where Jeremy began his Jewish education as a child.
«This isn’t typical,» said Rabbi Yossi Blesofsky, addressing the synagogue’s guests. «We are gathered here tonight for a rally on behalf of our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land…Jeremy’s friend is still in action as we speak. Jeremy and Debbie are not comfortable with big events. So, why are we doing this?
«Because it’s a mitzvah to publicize those who do mitzvot. [Jeremy] doesn’t have an ego. This is to inspire everyone else here.» The point being—to «wake up American Jews.»
Rabbi Blesofsky, who has known Jeremy for 16 years, continued to speak about his character. «He’s a light. His neshama shines. That’s what pushed him to do what’s right.»
Most young Americans go to Israel to have a great year, «but to sign up for the toughest army in the world, and to be an elite soldier—to go through that process you need something pushing you. That’s his soul,» concluded the rabbi.
Following the rabbi’s speech, several more heartfelt speeches were made given by friends and family at the bima: Dina Blesofsky, the rabbi’s wife; Smuli Blesofsky, the rabbi’s son and Jeremy’s friend; Deborah’s friend Diana Iskhakov; Jeremy’s aunt Stella Sofiyeva (who spoke in Russian); Jeremy’s cousin Jonny Yunatanov; and Jeremy’s older brother Jacob – «He’s a born leader» – and younger brother Jordan who praised him, too.
Then the man of honor spoke.
«It’s difficult for me to be here,» said Jeremy. «On one hand, it’s happiness and joy because I see all of my loved ones, my family and friends, here. But on the other hand, I have the family and friends I made there. My team is still there. And the mission is not over. Israel is at war. The Jewish nation is under attack in Israel and abroad. And there’s still hostages in Gaza.»
He reflected on what celebration means, questioning it at this time. Can we celebrate when we are at war? «It feels kind of wrong,» he mused. Yet he recognized that celebration has the power to unite us and offer a moment of respite in turbulent times.
«My point is that I’m happy to be here. There’s still part of me that’s there—and there’s still part of every single person in this room that’s there, because we were all in the Sinai and spent 40 years wandering in the desert. Soon enough, we’ll all be there together. Am Israel Chai,» said Jeremy.

The Bukharian Times commends Jeremy Sofiev for his exemplary service and leadership. We extend our gratitude for his dedication and sacrifice. May his journey forward be filled with continued success, happiness, and fulfillment.

Erin Levi