Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Rescuing Bukharan Jews

The bleak and challenging history of the Jewish community under Soviet rule is well known. When most people think of the Russian Jewish community, however, they focus on the Ashkenazi communities of the western U.S.S.R.  Nestled in the southern Asian region of the Soviet Empire, however, the Bukharan Jewish community had their own trials and tribulations under Communist rule.

One year after the Soviets took control of the region (1917), Rabbi Yosef Elyashiyov was born. Despite the anti-religious environment of the Soviet Union, Rav Elyashiyov devoted his entire life to fighting for Judaism’s survival. Raised in Samarkand, Rav Elyashiyov moved to Tashkent after his marriage. He and his wife raised their seven children in a traditional household. Dedicated to Torah, Rav Elyashiyov studied and taught the Torah and Jewish law even when it was against Soviet law to do so. Indeed, suspected of underground religious activity, he spent four years in custody and three years hiding from the KGB.

In 1971, Rav Elyashiyov acquired an exit visa. Traveling alone and bribing police as needed, he finally made it to the Promised Land. He settled in Bnei Brak and began working in the diamond trade. Eventually, he was able to bring the rest of his family to Israel.

Rav Elyashiyov’s greatest desire was to save Bukharan Jewry. In addition to helping bring Bukharan Jews to Israel, Rav Elyashiyov founded several schools, which he named Shaarei Torah institutions. In Israel, he also started a kollel (an educational institute with paid Torah scholars) and a special school specifically for Bukharan immigrants. Since their founding in 1980, many thousands of students have attended and been educated at these schools.

When Rav Elyashiyov passed away on 7 Tevet 2007, thousands came to mourn him.

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