On February 22 — the same day the Golden Mosque in Samarra, Iraq was bombed — the only synagogue in Tajikistan was destroyed by the Tajik government.
There have been no Jewish riots. There has been no international condemnation. In fact, it seems that nobody cares except the few Jews who know about it, which is a very small number of people since it has not been reported in the mainstream media. As Shelomo Alfassa writes:
According to “Google News,” 2,930 news articles appear for the mosque destruction, while only six exist on the synagogue destruction — and those six are really just one brief mention that has been repeated through syndication in American newspapers.
Here’s what happenned, according to a press release from the International Sephardic Leadership Council:
|Destruction of the synagogue has started. (ISLC)
[T]he city of Dushanbe in Tajikistan has started to destroy an active and functioning synagogue-the only synagogue in the entire country. The 150 members of the Jewish community, mainly made up of Bukharian Jews, is elderly and poor and cannot afford to build a new synagogue.
The synagogue was built by the Jewish community a century ago. It was earmarked for demolition under plans for construction of a “Palace of Nations” (the Tajik president’s new residence). Between February 7-20, 2006 the city authorities demolished the mikva (ritual bathhouse), classroom and kosher butchery of the synagogue.
While the government claims the synagogue technically belongs to the state, Rabbi Mikhail Abdurakhmanov of Dushanbe told a human rights group, “By rights the synagogue ought to belong to the Jews who paid for its construction about 100 years ago.” He reported then that the authorities had offered a plot of land some distance from central Dushanbe, where the community could build a new synagogue. Yet, there was no way the mainly elderly congregation could afford to build a new synagogue.
Forum18 News reported Shamsuddin Nuriddinov, head of the Dushanbe Religious Affairs Department indicated the governement had no intention of offering financial compensation for the demolition of the synagogue. “Religion is separate from the state here in Tajikistanâ€¦If the Jews want to have a synagogue, let them pay for it out of their own funds.”
Never mind that they paid to build it in the first place. So the Jews pay to build a synagogue, the state declares it state property (without giving compensation), then the state destroys it and says that since it’s state property, they can’t compensate the community.
And by the way, if “Religion is separate from the state here in Tajikistan” why do they even have a “Religious Affairs Department” in the government?
Not that by destroying the mikvah, the school, and the kosher butchery, in addition to the synagogue, they are basically saying that they want there to be no Jewish life whatsoever. (For those of you who know what a mikvah is, you’ll realize that by destroying it, they are basically prohibiting Jews from reproducing, as well as from accepting converts.) Without those institutions, Jews not only can’t pray — they also can’t have children, can’t educate them, and can’t eat meat. The community is mainly “elderly and poor” and the government wants to make them more elderly, if not dead, and more poor.
And they are also trying — nearly successfully — from allowing the word to get out:
A local citizen reported that when a Jewish member of the synagogue filmed the destruction, officials threatened to break his video-camera. Reports have circulated that members of the community indicate that they have been threatened by government officials for raising their voices.
Shelomo Alfassa further writes:
Decent people of the world were horrified by the destruction of the gold-domed mosque last week, but on the same day, the destruction of an active synagogue — by a progressive government, supposedly based on civil law — was hardly even noted.
On February 22, 2006, an active synagogue, much beloved by its Jewish congregation, was destroyed after heavy construction equipment tore off the roof, crushed its concrete walls and drove through its sanctuary. This was the only active synagogue in the country of Tajikistan, a country north of Afghanistan and south of Russia. The synagogue was destroyed so the government can build a grand palace for its president. “If the Jews want to have [rebuild] a synagogue, let them pay for it out of their own funds,” said Shamsuddin Nuriddinov, head of the City of Dushanbe, Religious Affairs Department.
In regard to the mosque destruction, statements were issued from leaders around the world. President Bush stated, “I extend my deepest condolences to the people of Iraq for the brutal bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra…. The American people pledge to work with the people of Iraq to rebuild and restore the Golden Mosque of Samarra to its former glory.” He added: “The United States stands ready to do all in its power to assist the Government of Iraq to identify and bring to justice those responsible for this terrible act.”
There are some 150 Jews in Tajikistan, mostly elderly Bukharian Jews. When news of the destruction of the Tajikistan synagogue reached the Bukharian community in the United States, the news was met with shock; people whose children were brought up in that synagogue reacted in tears. Members of the Bukharian community in Atlanta, Georgia stated they worry about the Jewish cemeteries that are near the synagogue, what will happen to them?
In regard to the synagogue destruction, not one statement was made by any government of any country around the world. The only Jewish organization to speak up on this was the International Sephardic Leadership Council, of which this writer is executive director of. While the media covered some 1,000 Israeli fans of a Tel Aviv basketball team demonstrating on Saturday night against the destruction of the team’s historic arena, not one person in the main stream media has come out to address the destruction of the center of Jewish life in Tajikistan. First the government destroyed the mikvah (ritual bath), then the kosher butcher shop, now the entire synagogue.
While Iraq is 97% Islamic, Tajikistan comes in at 85% Islamic and growing. And while the Iraqi Muslims claim say the community near the gold domed mosque was there for 1000 years, the Jewish community has been in the area surrounding Tajikistan for 2000 years. And while the gold domed mosque in Iraq was built in 1905 — a little over 100 years ago — the synagogue in Tajikistan was built 100 years ago as well. Yet, everyone is quiet about this. Including Jewish organizations — this must change.
The destruction of the Tajikistan synagogue is the most disgraceful act committed by a sovereign state toward its Jewish population since the end of WWII. The Soviet Union and its successor states may have oppressed and harassed their Jewish communities, but even at the height of Stalin’s anti-Semitic purges they did not seek to wipe every element of Jewish existence like the Tajikistan government.
It is an ominous message for a Jewish community, that while living under a government that is attempting to rebuild its economic, political and social image — it starts by wiping out the only synagogue in its country.
Maybe this has something to do with the fact that Jews don’t riot.