Community in Kyrgyzstan - World Jewish Congress

Kyrgyzstan

Most Jews of Kyrgyzstan are concentrated in Bishkek (Frunze), the capital. They constitute a relatively new community – nearly all of them having migrated to the country after the Russian Revolution or as evacuees or refugees from European Russia during World War II. The affiliate of the World Jewish Congress in Kyrgyzstan is the Jewish Community of Kyrgyszstan.

WJC Affiliate

The Jewish Community of Kyrgyszstan

Phone: +996 312 663 826

President: Mr. Vladimir Kritsman


Community News


History

There is evidence of the first Jews settling in Kyrgyzstan about a thousand years ago, but the Jewish community began forming in the second half of the 19th century as Central Asia was annexed by the Russian Empire, and both European and Bukharian Jews came to settle on the territory of today’s Kyrgyzstan. Ashkenazi Jews preferred the northern part of the republic, while Sephardic Jews settled in the south. In the 20th century the Bukharian Jews began migrating gradually to the northern regions.

The number of Ashkenazi Jews grew in the 1930-1940's, primarily with exiles and refugees. The number of evacuated Jews during the Great Patriotic War is estimated at 26,000. By the end of the 1970's, the Jewish population of Kyrgyzstan had shrunk to 7,200. Along with European and Bukharian Jews, small groups of Karaites, Krymchaks, and Caucasus Jews lived in Kyrgyzstan, all suffering to some extent from Stalinist repression.

After the Jewish organizations were eliminated and most local Bukharian-Jewish intellectuals destroyed in the 1920–1930's, the only remaining institutional setting of the Jewish community was the synagogue in Bishkek, established in 1941.

Over 5,000 have emigrated from the country since the early 1990’s.

 

The Years of the Holocaust

The hardships of World War II brought about a change in the official policy concerning the relationship between state and religion. The Soviet policy during those years assumed that every religion had an important duty in the consolidation of the Soviet society facing the German enemy. In 1941, a public synagogue in Kyrgyzstan was allowed for the first time to be opened in Bishkek (then known as Frunze). Jews bought a building in the city center and Y. Levin, the first rabbi, donated a Torah scroll. The synagogue provided services of mohel, shochet and hevra kadisha. A beth midrash and a mikve functioned on the premises. Special shops selling kosher meat, haloth for Sabbath and matzoth for Passover opened near the synagogue. Additional synagogues were established in the cities of Osh and Kant.

Demography

Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimated the Kyrgystan Jewish community to number between 200 and 600 as of 2009. Most of them live in Bishkek, with smaller groups residing in the cities of Osh, Kyzyl-Kiya, Karakol, Tokmak, and Kant.

Community Life

Bishkek’s community is largely secular – only a handful of the city’s Jews attend synagogue. Young people are particularly non-observant, and those who are often immigrate to Israel or another country. The synagogue has a daily minyan, however, and about 20 congregants at Shabbat services every Saturday. Students and travelers interested in visiting the synagogue or attending services should get in touch by phone, at the number listed above.

Religious and Cultural Life

The Menorah Society of Jewish Culture directs a Sunday school. There are about thirty students – small children to sixteen-year-olds – in the school. Volunteers from the Menorah Society teach Jewish history, Hebrew, and Torah. Children celebrate holidays and learn Jewish songs and dances.

Jewish Education

Pri Etz Chaim Day School, Bishkek
Sunday School

Pri Etz Chaim, the city’s Jewish Day School, has about 80 students. The school teaches Jewish history, Hebrew, and Kyrgyz language and literature in addition to the state curriculum. It is funded by World ORT, an international Jewish education NGO.

 

jewish media

Since 2000, the Jewish community of Bishkek has published a monthly newsletter, Ma’ayan(Мааян). The newsletter, which lies in a stack in the synagogue for the taking, is a rare place to find bits of news about the community in Bishkek – items such as city-wide meetings attended by a member of the community or the death of a community member. Even more articles, it seems, cover news stories in Israel, Russia, and the US.

Israel

Israel and Kyrgyzstan maintain full diplomatic relations. Israel is represented by its ambassador in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

updated

 

March 2018

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