Tajikistan’s Only Synagogue Attacked
For the second time in a month, vandals this past week attacked the last remaining synagogue in the city of Dushanbe, capital of the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan, in what is believed to have been an attempt to set the building on fire.
“Last Wednesday, two youths approached the synagogue and hurled a Molotov cocktail into the courtyard, which burst into flames,” David Gourevich, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement’s chief rabbi of Central Asia, told The Jerusalem Post by phone from neighboring Uzbekistan, where he is based.
“Two elderly Jews who were inside at the time saw the youths and began to chase them, but they managed to get away,” he said, adding that local police were called but failed to intervene.
The incident marked the second time in the past month that the synagogue has come under attack, the rabbi said.
On August 18, unidentified assailants started a fire in the building and fled the scene. The flames damaged some curtains before being extinguished. The perpetrators were never caught.
“The authorities are refusing to provide protection for the site, and say that it is the Jewish community’s responsibility to pay for security,” Gourevich said. “But the community does not have any money to pay for guards or security on its own.”
The Dushanbe synagogue garnered international attention earlier this year, when Tajik authorities announced plans to raze it in order to make way for the expansion of a presidential palace.
In February, demolition teams began tearing down the century-old synagogue, but halted in the wake of an international outcry, though not before they had managed to destroy the community’s mikve, an office and a classroom.
The US government, various Jewish organizations, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had all pressed Tajikistan not to knock down the country’s sole Jewish house of worship.
But the fate of the synagogue continues to remain uncertain. According to Gourevich, there has been no change on the ground in the intervening six months.
“When I visited Dushanbe a few months ago, I met with the city’s chief architect as well as with other officials,” he said. “They told me they were going to draw up plans for an alternative site for a synagogue in the city, but as far as I know, this has not yet happened.
“Nonetheless, I told the authorities it would be better if the synagogue were left in place,” the rabbi said. “If world Jewry showed more of an interest, it wouldn’t be touched.”
It is unclear if the two attacks on the synagogue in the past month are connected with the controversy over the government’s desire to demolish the building.
Gourevich noted that services continue to be held at the synagogue on the three days a week – Mondays, Thursdays and Shabbat – when the Torah is read.
He also noted that he recently received official permission from the Tajik government to open a Chabad-Lubavitch office in Dushanbe, and that he is now looking for a full-time emissary, and financial support, to staff it.
Some 350 Jews, most of whom are elderly, still reside in Dushanbe. “Virtually no young people remain, and most members of the community are either ill or destitute,” said Gourevich, who sends a shohet to the city once a week to provide kosher meat for them. “They too are Jews, and we have to help them,” he said
Gourevich added that he hopes to visit the community before Rosh Hashana to assess the current situation.