Let’s start by defining what it means to be a Jew. A Jew can be identified as a person who has a Jewish mother, or a person who observes the mitzvot of the Torah and celebrates Jewish holidays. We can say that a Jew is someone close to Israel, or someone who has built a Jewish home with Jewish values.
Now, what makes a Jew a Bukharian Jew? Some might wonder why this question is even relevant. Why should it matter whether a Jew is Bukharian or Bagdadi? In today’s political climate, some might believe that as long as a Jew is safe, that should be sufficient.
Currently, numerous organizations around the world are dedicated to serving the Bukharian Jewish community. These organizations work to preserve our cemeteries in Central Asian cities where Bukharian families once lived before emigrating to Israel, Europe, and America. Some focus on promoting religious education, while others provide kosher food to those in need. Additionally, various groups work to preserve Bukharian Jewish songs, poetry, and theater. Many talented Bukharian writers, whom I consider to be part of our community’s elite, continue to write and publish books, newspapers, and magazines, thus maintaining the voice of the Bukharian Jewish community. All these efforts aim to preserve the Bukharian Jewish spirit.
So, I ask again: what makes a Jew a Bukharian Jew? We need to define the important components of our identity so that we can know exactly what it is that we need to preserve and pass on to our children and grandchildren so that Bukharian Jews continue to not just survive, but to thrive for many future generations.
It is possible that the qualities that I consider exclusively Bukharian might differ from those that you consider exclusively Bukharian. So, let’s start the discussion. When I think about what makes me a Bukharian Jew, I realize that it is not just that I keep Jewish commandments, have Jewish parents, or am raising Jewish children, or live in Jerusalem. What matters is not just what I do, but how I do it. What makes me a Bukharian Jew is the way I keep the mitzvot, the way I observe Shabbat and holidays, the way I respect my parents and ancestors, and the way I raise my children. My Bukharian heritage is expressed in the tastes and aromas of delicious dishes that I prepare according to recipes passed down to me by my mother, grandmothers and aunts. Since childhood, I have known the warmth of a Bukharian home, where the rituals of hospitality are deeply rooted in respect and honor for guests. I feel an instant feeling of something familiar when I hear the recognizable melodies of «shashmakom,» when I see the detailed embroidery of «suzani,» when I notice a golden gleam of a «daspona» bracelet dangling on someone’s wrist. How my heartbeat quickens when I hear the tak-a-tak beat of a «doira» (a traditional frame drum) in a familiar dance song. I have been a guest in many Jewish communities, and only one, the Bukharian Jewish community, pays such great attention to the annual memorial of its ancestors. I don’t know any other equivalent to the Bukharian «yushvo». And the world of Bukharian matchmaking is a fascinating story in and of itself, but one for another time.
All these ceremonies and rules give our Jewishness a specific and unique Bukharian flavor. And all these things — sensations, reactions, smells, tastes, colors and patterns, music, poetry and education — all of this is our culture! This is what our heritage is made of. It consists of words, notes, and the rhythm of the doira. Our genetics and observance of the Torah make us Jews, and our traditions and culture make us Bukharian Jews. Therefore, if we want to ensure the prosperity of future generations, we need to instill a love and affection for our heritage in our children and grandchildren. Because if we look at the source of our culture, we will see that it is rooted in love.
A culture rooted in ‘love’
For example, to prepare a beautiful and tasty «Bakhsh» (green pilaf), of course, you need love. We sincerely invite and welcome guests into our homes. It is the love of music that makes our singers sing, inspires our poets to write, and compels our dancers move across the stage. We are who we are because we are united by a common love. United by things we consider beautiful, desirable, and valuable. Our culture is our love, and our love is our culture.
I have heard some people say that now that we live in America, Europe and Israel, it is time to leave behind our old primitive ways of life. For people who agree with this opinion, I would like to quote the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who said: «Children need only two things from their parents: roots and wings.» Many of us now live in places with plenty of opportunities where our children can, through education and opportunity, spread their wings and realize their dreams. But make no mistake: it is their roots that will help them identify and navigate their target. It is their roots that will nourish and provide their flight energy to achieve their goal.
Therefore, it is crucial for all these organizations striving to preserve our heritage to understand that safeguarding our culture is indispensable for our survival as a community. These reflections are just the beginning. Now, I encourage each of you to further this dialogue with your families and friends, perhaps over dinner. Explore the topic yourselves by pondering, «What does it truly mean to be a Bukharian Jew?»

Dr. Lily Iskhakova