Tashkent, the Jewish Safe Heaven During Communism, Gets a New Mikvah

After years of expectations, planning and construction a Jewish Mikvah ritual bath was opened last week in FJC’s community of Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Called “Mei Olga”, the mikvah attests to the revival of Jewish life in Uzbekistan, which has a long and prominent Jewish history. Its construction was funded by FJC’s President Mr. Lev Leviev and his wife Olga, the Keren Mikvaos fund headed by Rabbi Avraham Shwartz, the Keren Meromim fund headed by Mr. Yitzchak Miralashvili and other sponsors.

The mikavh’s construction began in July of 2016. Although the city already had a mikvah opened right after the fall of the Iron Curtain, due to Uzbekistan’s frequent earthquakes the mikvah, whose durability depends on the quality of the soil, soon became unusable.

“Today we see in increased interest in Jewish traditions in the community and so the issue of the mikvah once again became relevant,” said Tashkent Chief Rabbi Baruch Abramchayev when the construction began.

Last week’s grand opening was attended by numerous guests from around the world and government officials. Among them were Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, heads of the global Bucharian congregations and prominent philanthropists.

The festive dinner that followed the opening was also attended by Uzbekistan’s Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov. At an official meeting that preceded the event Jewish leaders thanked Uzbekistan’s government for its longstanding support of Jewish communities in the country. “Many generations of Jews have lived here in peace for hundreds and thousands of years, and now, after seventy years of Communism we see the communities returning to their former glory,” a press-release cited them as saying.

Tashkent’s Jewish history in particular is a colorful one. Alongside a prominent history of the city’s Bukharian community, during WWII the city became a safe heaven for Jewish refugees fleeing from Poland, Ukraine and Russia. After the war the city enjoyed a slightly more lenient policy than the widespread strict veto on religious observance and became home to many Jewish activists seeking refuge from government persecution.

In the 70s and onwards the city became a hub to those fleeing the Soviet Union for Israel and other countries. Therefore, the opening of the new mikvah, which is built to include all halachic opinions and open to all congregations, is especially significant, Rabbi Abramchayev said.

 

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