The Real Jews of Kazakhstan

jews  in almatyWith Borat on the minds of most American Jews, a man who cringes at the sight of Jews, one might think that this Central Asian republic is Judenrien. Well, there are Jews in Kazakhstan. As it says on Mitsva.kz: They have 35,000 Jews and two capitals. Sounds very Jewish.On a recent speaking tour, Rabbi Shevach Zlotopolsky of Almaty, Kazakhstan, principal of the Ohr Avner Jewish School, a traditional faith-based school and orphanage in Almaty with 200 Jewish children as enrolled students as well as another 20 orphans spoke to in Sharon, MA.

The organizers of the event in Sharon, a couple that had gone to Kazachstan to adobt, have now become unofficial ambassadors for the country’s small Jewish community.

Our main goals for this presentation and our ongoing efforts overall is raise money and awareness for the school and for the Jewish community in Kazakhstan. Part of this is to let people know even that there is a Jewish community in Kazakhstan,” said Marsha Schaffel at the presentation event.

And who else is going to go to such a far-flung place, and open up a Jewish school and orphanage? Well, what movement would go there… Hmmm.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library:

Today, between 12,000 and 30,000 Jews live in Kazakhstan. They are predominately Russian-speaking and identify with Russian culture. Approximately 2,000 are Bukharian and Tat (Caucasion Mountain Jews). Almaty is the main Jewish center of the country, with approximately 10,000. Smaller Jewish communities are spread out across this large country (four times the size of Texas) in places such as Karaganda, Chimkent, Astana, Semiplatinsk, Kokchetav, Dzhambul, Uralsk, Aktyubinsk, Petropavlovsk and several villages.

The JDC, and the Jewish Agency have projects there too, and compete with Chabad. I guess that they have seperate websites too. Jew-baiting is an issue, no matter how much the the Government of Kazakhstan denies this in nice ads in the NY Times.

While the Cheif Rabbi of Kazahkstan said recently there is no anti-Semitism today, the JVL reports that not so long ago, Jews were targets:

While anti-Semitism is not a great threat, it is still prevalent in Kazakhstan. Jews are occasionally beaten and harassed because of their identity. In 1997, after Kazakh KGB agents arrested Leonid Solomin, an independent Jewish labor leader and his associates, the Kazakh newspapers published a slew of anti-Semitic charges warning against “Zionists” and “international Jewry.” One even called upon the people to kill Jews.

No matter what the propogandists say the following are real:

National Games: Kyz Kuu and Kakpar

Kyz Kuu (”Overtake the girl”) is the game where young boys and girls are participants. The girl on the horse does her best to gallop from the young man but as soon as the latter tries to overtake (approach) her she lashes him with a whip. If, up to a certain place, the young boy fails to overtake her she would “reward” him with whipping again. When the luckiest catch up with the girl, he snatches a headscarf out of her teeth. If he is successful he earns a kiss.

Kokpar (”Fighting for a goat’s carcass”) is the most popular Kazakh game. It takes its origin from an ancient tradition according to which, one who wants to get rid of evil, should sacrifice a goat. Up to 1,000 horsemen take part in the game. The game unfolds on an almost infinite steppe range. On the opposite ends of an immense field they arrange goals of teams – adversaries. It is into them that the symbolic carcass of the goat should be thrown, while the throw proper is preceded by a desperate flight between the teams to get hold of the carcass.

Wedding ceremony

In Kazakh traditions wedding lasts 40 days beginning with matchmaking. Either the fiancé sends matchmakers to his bride’s parents, or he abducts his fiancée. In the first case the matchmakers, who are the fiancé’s relatives, bring rich gifts to the bride’s parents and ask their consent to the marriage. This negotiation is called the kudaga tusu. If the bride’ parents agree, then they fix the kalym (ransom) for the bride and the wedding day. Sometimes it is the bride who has the right to choose to accept the offer. Instead of direct refusal, the girl would give man some difficult and almost unrealizable task. A legend tells about such a case. Abylai Khan fell in love with a beautiful girl from a poor family. But she already had her intended – an ordinary warrior. As to not hurt Abylai Khan’s feelings and bring his anger on her family, the girl requested Khan shoot an arrow beyond the mountain near a lake. The girl went to a rock in the middle of the lake to watch the competition. However hard Khan tried to shoot the arrow high in the sky, it would not rise beyond the mountain. Since then, the mountain is called Okzhetpes, which means “unachievable with an arrow”. The girl had decided that if Khan fulfilled her task, she would jump from the rocky island onto the stones protruding out of the water. That is why the lake is called Zhumbaktas, which means “a riddle-stone”.

Kumys is a sour milk beverage made of mare’s milk. In new warm mare’s milk add about 25% of sour-milk bacillus ferment and milk yeast, stir us continuously with a whisk 20 to 30 mins. Let stand 2-3 hours, then stir again. In a little while

, pour the blend in bowl, cover tightly and let stand in a cool place.

Finally there comes the capital treat – besbarmak. First they cover a large round or oval dish with small round flat pieces of boiled paste followed by small bars of boiled horse-meat or mutton, then comes onion cut in rings and scalded with hot broth, all this strewn with a green mixture of fennel, parsley and kinza…

Picture from The Weekly Edition of www.kazakhembus.com
That is the Kazkh Emb USA.


Rav Shmuel’s Protocols Video


The man the myth the legend. Returns for Jewlicious 3.0, March 9-11, 2007

Building a World of Compassion

An elderly man is sitting in the hot sun by the door to his home. He gazes into the desert wilderness to see if anyone is passing by. Although suffering from a recent operation, he is compelled to follow his usual routine. For his home is a place of refuge and peace for travelers, wayfarers, and lost souls. Together with his wife, they create an oasis of compassion in a harsh world.

This is Abraham and Sarah, progenitors of the Jewish people. Through their lives and actions, we learn that receiving guests is a sacred act. Opening our homes expresses a great love for humanity. This love for humanity is sacred, akin to receiving the Divine Presence.

I have a friend who with his wife regularly hosts thirty to forty people for Shabbos meals. He started just hosting some friends once a month. They asked if they could bring some friends. Soon, he had to go out and buy dozens of folding chairs and folding tables. He moves the furniture out of his living room in order to accommodate all his guests. He buys food, seltzer, plates and cups by the case. Each meal people come who he has never met before. Very often they are new to the area with no place to go for Shabbos meals. But in his home, they feel like the most special guests.

Sometimes we think that to build a more compassionate world, we need an overhaul of government, politicians and cultural values. We see corruption, greed, and elitism. We see terrible inhumanity and suffering in our own communities. We see people who are lost, financially, spiritually, and emotionally.

Abraham and Sarah saw such a world that lacked compassion and Godliness. The most wealthy cities of their time, prohibited visitors, abused the poor and homeless. So they set about emulating the compassion that G-d showed them, by opening their home, their lives, and helping who ever they could. They built a world of compassion in their own home. They built a world of kindness and hope in a tent in the desert.

Imagine what we can do with our lives and modern homes? Imagine if we all open our doors, even just a bit more. Imagine if we open our hearts up just a bit more. Imagine if we open our wallets just a little bit more. Wow! Can you imagine the world of compassion that we can build? Each home can become a world of compassion, a sacred space, dedicated to a sacred mission.

A worthy Jew

Thoughts from Parsha Lech Lecha

This is My covenant, which you shall observe between Me and between you and between your seed after you, that every male among you be circumcised.Chapter 17:10 Genesis

Circumcision is the bais of future righteousness. Fortunate is Israel!  ZoharYou know there are things I do that I understand and then there are things that I do that I don’t understand. In the infinite complexity of life the mechanisms and chain reactions that lead me to walk and think, to be thirsty, to prefer roses that carnations. Why I enjoy the sunset or the fresh freeze.

Perhaps the thing that I have trouble understanding is the reason why so many Jews continue to circumcise their boys, even when they are ignorant of or ignore every other single mitzvah they can. They live a life totally rejected by tradition and Torah, and then their little boy is born, and CHOP! off comes the foreskin.

And especially since the bris is a “sign” of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, a completely spiritual act that can only be accomplished in a purely physical act, it would seem that natural thing to give up first! However, that is not how it happens.

The following powerful story appears in “Hassidic Tales of the Holocaust” by Yaffa Eliach:

One of the forced laborers in the camps related that one day he heard frightening cries of anguish the likes of which he had never heard before. Later he learned that on that very day a selection had been made — of infants to be sent to the ovens. We continued working, tears rolling down our faces, and suddenly I heard the voice of a Jewish woman: “Give me a knife.”

I thought she wanted to take her own life. I said to her, “Why are you hurrying so quickly to the world of truth…” All of a sudden the German soldier called out, “Dog, what did you say to the woman?”

“She requested a pocketknife and I explained to her that it was prohibited to commit suicide.”

The woman looked at the German with inflamed eyes, and stared spellbound at his coat pocket where she saw the shape of his pocketknife. “Give it to me,” she requested. She bent down and picked up a package of old rags. Hidden among them, on a pillow as white as snow, lay a tender infant. The woman took the pocketknife, pronounced the blessing — and circumcised the child. “Master of the Universe,” she cried, “You gave me a healthy child, I return him to You a worthy Jew.”

I just had the honor and privilege of being able to make a bris for our third son, Naftali. Every time the experience is moving and transformative in such a deep way that I have trouble speaking. I literally can barely get a word out. And for those who know, this is highly unusual. But at the bris of my sons, no word. Incomprehensible sense of joy. Overwhelming responsibility. Sadness —that my father OBM is not there. Feeling of great accomplishment, coupled with a sense of total humility. Deep, so deep. A sense of being humbled and awed by the power of creation, amazement at my own act in the continuation of this eternal covenant.

I could give a whole lecture—I have— on all the intricacies of all the symbols and meanings of the bris. It takes me an hour and a half just to get started. But ultimately, it is something that I find nearly impossible to explain, why it is so important to so man,y that they have risked their lives for this.

May God grant the Jewish people a quick and speedy redemption based on the merit of their faithful adherence to the Bris.