Thursday, December 13, 2007

Teens Trace Their Roots At Bukharian Museum

In the densely packed Bukharian Jewish Museum on Woodhaven Boulevard in Elmhurst, gold embroidered tapestries hang on walls, books and photos pile up on tabletops, and silk robes and tribal musical instruments cast an era not quite ready to be forgotten.

"I don't want my Bukharian Jewish history and culture to disappear without leaving any trace," said Aron Aronov, 69, who has collected or purchased over 3,000 items for his museum, including a 400-year-old deerskin Torah. "We [already] lost our environment. There is no desert, no camels [in New York], so I started this museum."

But, it's the youth's interest that captures the spirit of old and new in Bukharian culture. Imanuel Rybakov, 24, is the president of the Bukharian Jewish Youth Association - a 100-member group from the ages 16-35. He runs the Bukharian youth website www.bjews.com (with an online dating service), gives guided tours of the museum and teaches the the farsi-inspired Bukhori language online and to peers.

"First, I was very interested in the history of my family" said Rybakov, whose family was deeply involved in the Bukharian community in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. "I was proud that I was coming from a family with such good roots."

Rybakov is patient and precise during his tour, explaining artifacts in detail, whether handling Soviet money or donning delicate, silk robes.

"Our mission statement is the integration of Bukharian Jews into American Jewish life," said Rybakov, a finance and economics major at Queens College. "We would like to create more programs to educate our youth about our background."

This story was published in the Queens Chronicle.

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