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Tajik Jewish Community Gets New Synagogue

The new synagogue building was donated by a wealthy banker.
The new synagogue building was donated by a wealthy banker.
The small Jewish community in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, has a special reason to celebrate during the spring holiday of Passover, which begins on April 8. After nearly a year without a place of worship, the congregation has received a new building to use as a synagogue.

The building has yet to be consecrated as a synagogue by Dushanbe's chief rabbi, which is expected to happen on May 1, but the handover of the property has already taken place.

The two-story house, with pale pink walls and elegant marble detailing, replaces Dushanbe's old synagogue, which was bulldozed a year ago as part of an urban renovation plan pushed through by city authorities.

The new building, located on Dushanbe's elite Ozodii Zanon Street, was donated to the city's Jewish community by Hasan Assadullozoda, the head of Tajikistan's Orient-Bank and a brother-in-law of President Emomali Rahmon.

Dushanbe's chief rabbi, Mikhail Abdurahmonov, says he was enthusiastic about the new building. "After being deprived of a place to worship for nearly a year, everyone in the community is delighted to have a synagogue once again," Abdurahmonov says.

The decision in 2008 to tear down Dushanbe's only synagogue provoked an angry outcry from regional and international Jewish groups, as well as from organization like UNESCO.

The 100-year-old building was demolished along with a large tract of family homes in order to make way for the construction of a luxurious presidential palace.

Home To A Community

The old synagogue was more than just a place of worship for Dushanbe's dwindling Jewish community. It also functioned as a community center where people gathered for cultural events, to celebrate important days on the Jewish calendar, or simply to meet with friends.

The city's Jewish poor were also welcomed there to receive free food and financial support donated by foreign Jewish organizations.

The old synagogue also held great historic significance for Tajik Jews, as a reminder of a time when the country's Jewish culture and traditions were flourishing.

There were an estimated 15,000 Jews living in Tajikistan before the breakup of the Soviet Union, but many of them have since left the Muslim-majority country, resettling in Israel, the United States, and Europe. The community has now dwindled to only a few hundred people, many of them elderly and poor.

At the time of the synagogue's construction, in the early 1900s, Dushanbe was home to two Jewish quarters. For years, the old synagogue was home to a Hebrew-language library and Hebrew classes.

At the new synagogue, those cultural and religious services will resume, Rabbi Abdurahmonov says. "The synagogue is a place where Jews get together. It’s a place to organize cultural events, and it's a space where everything takes place in accordance with the Jewish way of life," he says.

"People used to bring their children here, and they will do so again. Children would learn from their parents, they would repeat [the traditions] after their parents, and they would learn Jewish lifestyle and history," Abdurahmonov says.

The new synagogue has already begun distributing kosher food ahead of Passover celebrations this week, commemorating the story of Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt.

RFE/RL’s Tajik Service contributed to this report
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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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