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EXCERPT FROM PREFACE Bukharan Jews and the Dynamics of Global Judaism Alanna E. Cooper www.bukharanjews.com Curious to learn what it was like to be Jewish in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, I asked my students to tell me about the homes, schools, synagogues, and neighborhoods they had left behind. They began to answer my questions, but the language and cultural barriers that stood between us proved serious obstacles, and we quickly reached the limits of conversation. If you want to know the place we call home they concluded, you will have to go visit for yourself. Several years before, this would not have been possible. Now, however, Soviet restrictions on tourism had been lifted and travel to the region was a real possibility. My curiosity was piqued. But you had better go quickly, they warned. The rise in nationalism and antisemitism, coupled with economic instability and a fear that the window of opportunity for leaving might be short-lived, had led to rapid, chain-migration. Everyone's aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and friends seemed to be packing their bags, leaving, and resettling in Israel and the United States. Soon it will be too late to see Jewish life in Central Asia, my students cautioned. And they were right. In 1989, approximately 50,000 "indigenous" Jews lived in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.1 Just a decade later, their population in the region had been reduced to about a tenth of its size. And today, no more than several hundred remain. In a historical instant, Jews have all but disappeared from this corner of the world, and a long chapter in diaspora history has come to a close. The story of Central Asia's Jews' deep roots and sudden rupture is not an isolated one. Indeed, it is part of a much larger phenomenon: a dramatic demographic shift that has occurred over the past century. Whereas today more than 80 percent of the world's Jewish population is concentrated in the United States and Israel,2 several decades ago this portion of the world's Jewish population was dispersed across regions in which they simply are no more. Gone are the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, which were

decimated during World War II. Empty stand the Jewish communal structures of the predominantly Muslim countries of North Africa and the Middle East since the Jews' en masse departure in the middle of the last century. While Jewish life as it once existed in Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Poland, Ukraine, and other locales waned (and in some instances disappeared), anthropologists of Jews and Judaism set to work capturing and documenting it. Lloyd Cabot Briggs, for example, spent time living among the Jews in the Sahara Desert town of Ghardaia in the early 1960s, during the months leading up to their mass departure to France.3 Barbara Myerhoff elicited narratives from elderly Jews in Venice, California about their lives in Eastern Europe prior to World War II.4 Irene Awret used the paintings of artist Rafael Uzan, along with the tales he told to accompany them, to record the contours of Jewish life in a small town in Tunisia prior to the Jews' great migration in 1956.5 Jonathan Boyarin and Jack Kugelmass translated yizker-bikher (memorial books compiled by refugees) to shed light on everyday life in the Polish Jewish communities that were destroyed during World War II.6 And Joelle Bahloul returned to her hometown to interview the Muslim neighbors among whom her family lived, in her effort to document the dynamics of Jewish-Muslim relations in Algeria prior to the Jews' leaving.7 While this body of work (which includes many additional contributions) serves to preserve a record of Jewish life that is now gone, it also highlights what has been coined the "diversities of diaspora":8 the great range of Jewish experience, the malleability of Jewish cultural forms, and the religion's flexibility and dynamism. Aspects of this book have been inspired by these same concerns. Like Lloyd Cabot Briggs, who frantically worked to capture Jewish life in Ghardaia just before the entire community fled, I traveled to Uzbekistan in the 1990s to document Jewish life in Central Asia before it disappeared in the wake of the Soviet Union's dissolution. I attended synagogue services and participated in life-cycle rituals, spent time cooking with women in their courtyards, joined families at holiday meals, attended Jewish youth-club events, and sat in on classes in Jewish schools. In this effort, I was driven not only by a desire to document Jewish life in Central Asia before it was too late, but also to gain insight into Judaism's adaptability. Along these lines, this book adds to the body of ethnographic literature that describes Judaism as an embodied religion that is articulated

through practice and organically connected to the cultures across the globe in which it has been embedded. This particular case study focuses on Judaism's interactions with the Islamic, Turko-Persian, and Soviet cultures of which it was a part in Central Asia. For readers familiar with Judaism only in its Western contexts, the Jewish practices described and analyzed here will read as lively, colorful depictions of the "other." They illustrate just how variable Judaism can be, and how different Jews can be from one another. Another critical aspect of the book, however, is not centered on difference at all. For what intrigued me most over the course of my research were not the distinctions I encountered. Rather, it was the curious sense of familiarity that I felt among Central Asia's Jews. Although I, myself, am an Ashkenazi Jew (that is, of Eastern European origin) and fourth-generation American, I was easily and readily welcomed into the homes of people from another cultural world, whose historical experiences had been utterly different from my own, and who were total strangers, except for the fact that we commonly identified as Jews. And once inside their homes, synagogues, and schools, I was struck by the ways in which their religious practices and categories felt so foreign to me, and yet so familiar. This diffuse and ill-defined feeling of connectedness, which hovered above our differences, led me to wonder how I might understand the relationship between the Judaism with which I am familiar from home, and that which I encountered in Central Asia. This specific question points to broader theoretical issues surrounding the contours of Judaism, Jewish history, and Jewish Peoplehood…..