Threads of Silk: The Story of Bukharan Jewry

A comprehensive exhibition devoted to the remarkable story of Bukharan Jewry will open at Beit Hatfutsot on January 4, 2013.The exhibition “Threads of Silk” tells the story of an ancient Jewish community living along the Silk Road, and reveals its outstanding economic, cultural, and spiritual achievements. This community prides itself on its long and impressive history, which dates back to the exile of the Ten Tribes of Israel or, according to other sources, to Persian Jewry. This exhibition features artworks, sumptuous clothing, objects, embroidery, jewelry, historical and contemporary photographs, documents, and film footage that capture the customs, ceremonies, beliefs, culture, and aspirations of this rich and multifaceted community.

This exhibition explores the life of Bukharan Jews in two different spheres: the first is the larger Bukharan sphere in which their identity was consolidated, and the second is the personal sphere. The Bukharan sphere is represented by artifacts related to life along the Silk Road, and to the Jewish community’s existence as a minority. The personal sphere focuses on the union between husband and wife and on the family – the most important unit in the life of this community. An important chapter of the exhibition is devoted to Bukharan Jewry’s strong connection to Zion, which led over the centuries to pilgrimages to the country, to the foundation of Jerusalem’s stately Bukharan neighborhood (built in in the late nineteenth century), and to a massive wave of immigration to Israel following the collapse of the Iron Curtain.

This strong connection to Zion led many Bukharan Jews to immigrate to the country in the late nineteenth century with all of their possessions, which constitute true cultural treasures. These include photographs, documents, and objects that bespeak this community’s existence between East and West, and reflect a heterogeneous culture shaped by multiple artistic influences. The exhibition offers a glimpse of this rich cultural world, while revealing how the traditions consolidated over the centuries are still alive today in the Bukharan community. The term “Bukharan Jewry” pertains to the Jewish communities of Central Asia – present-day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkemenistan – and derives from the name of the Emirate of Bukhara, which existed in this area from the sixteenth century to the early twentieth century. This exhibition tells the story of Bukharan Jewry from the time of its formation to the present, when few Jews remain in this region.

The exhibition includes a selection of photographs by Zion Ozeri and Neil Folberg, which document the life of the Bukharan community in recent years. It also features artworks by community members, including Rima Arselanov and Arthur Ya’akobov. The exhibition “Threads of Silk: The Story of Bukharan Jewry” is a joint initiative of Beit Hatfutsot and of MK Amnon Cohen, a member of the Bukharan community. The exhibition is accompanied by a sumptuous catalogue that includes color and black-and-white photographs, and articles by historians and scholars in a range of fields.