Bukharian Jews, a unique, isolated community from the Jewish population, resided in Central Asia for more than 2,000 years. They are known to be an isolated group because they never returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity and thus practice their own form of Judaism. During these long years of living in a country they truly called their home, they not only evolved a unique language known as Bukhori, but also developed many customs and traditions that they continue to pass down till today. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 20th century, thousands of Bukharian Jews migrated to New York and began a large community in Queens. Although they left their homeland, Uzbekistan, they did not leave their traditions behind. Bukharians continue to eat their traditional food, wear their traditional clothing on special occasions, and stick together as one community.
One of the most essential components of Bukharian culture is their cuisine. Their traditional cooking is based on lamb, rice, beets, potatoes, carrots and spices like cumin, paprika and chili. Bukharian women, back in Uzbekistan, spent long hours in the kitchen and were able to cook for at least 500 people. This did not die out here in New York, Bukharians still continue to have an abundant amount of food on their tables at celebrations. On Shabbat, the meals mainly consist of fried fish in a garlicky sauce, followed by meaty rice dishes known as bachsh and plov, which were garnished with cilantro or shredded carrots. On Saturday afternoon, an overnight-cooked rice dish flavored with chopped meat and dried fruit called oshi sabo. It was customary to eat these foods with your hands in order to get the full tasting experience.
Another key element of the Bukharian culture is their clothing. Back in Uzbekistan, Bukharians were often characterized by their signature costume known as the Joma. The Joma is a long, velvet robe covered with beautiful designs. This costume signified royalty and therefore only worn on special celebratory occasions, such as weddings. Midway through the wedding, the bride and groom enter the hall with their hands in the air, swaying to the beat of the drums and rhythm of traditional, Bukharian music. When watching videos of their dance, you can see the pride and joy they share of being who they are.
An important factor about the Bukharian community is their ability to stay close to one another. During happy events, they celebrate together and sad events, they are beside one another. Bukharians disclose, “even if you’ve never heard of the person, you go to the funeral” (Musleah, “Bukharian Jews: Preserving Identity”). A true sense of togetherness is what keeps any culture alive. Not only do they belong to the same neighborhood and schools, they also pray at their own synagogues, which were built upon the laws and rituals of the rabbis back from Uzbekistan.
The theme of Bukharians preserving their identity connects to Allana Cooper’s book, Bukharan Jews and the Dynamics of Global Judaism. She delved deep into the lives of Bukharians and the reasoning behind their close-knit community. She discovered the history about their diaspora, their settlement, their most respected rabbis and laws they followed. Cooper noticed that although none of her students were observant of Judaism, they still attended this yeshiva, in order to stick together. Ultimately, her book comes to show the main goal of the Bukharian population: the desire to preserve their identity, the identity they sustained for thousands of years of the diaspora. As years go by, along with preserving their identity, Bukharian culture continues to modernize; traditional food is slightly being changed, the appearance of men and women has altered as well. Many are assimilating with American culture and some even intermarry with other types of Jews. Regardless of their differences, both traditional and modernized Bukharians still respect one another and identify themselves as one community.