The view from my veranda

Uzbekistan and Simchat Torah

6th October 2023

Shabbat Shalom ! a Holy Tabernacles and of course Simchat Torah Sameach.

That’s it! We are back home after a truly amazing tour of Uzbekistan. A fascinating country that has successfully, if still not fully, risen out of the oppressive regimes of both Persia and Russia, retaining its own special character. Both regimes left this country, stripped of the wealth of its natural resources, but the greatest natural resource, the kindness and mannered approach of its people could not be stamped out. Beautiful buildings, amazing architecture this Moslem country has turned most of its Madrassas (Moslem schools) into monuments and has chosen the path of teaching their children the principles of their religion to include tolerance toward others. Of all the beautiful places we went, in Tashkent, Khiva, Bukhara, Sheherezabd and Samarkand, my greatest impression was of kindness of the people all around.

As you already know, buildings and monuments are beautiful but for me it’s the personal experiences that leave lasting impressions. For instance, travelling between Khiva and Bukhara on the old Russian style sleeper train Zvi decided to make Kiddush for the group. A young couple seemed fascinated and began filming us. They later joined us in our cramped, dusty and rather ugly cabin and told us their story. They are Jewish, from Novosibirsk and love going to the Chabad services. They were so excited to know we are Israeli and explained that they really wanted to make Aliyah but Leah’s mother is elderly and they couldn’t leave her. We put them in touch with our friend Valeri Silver who is an expert in these matters and who knows, they too may come and have dinner on our verandah one day!

Then there was the young man in Scheherazabd who was thrilled to hear us speaking Hebrew and told us that his job is to search the world for natural energy resources. He had perfect English and has friends in Carmiel!

In Bukhara, as you can imagine, our experiences related to members of our group. Gabi and his wife Shoshi were born in Bukhara. Shoshi had stayed in touch with her best friend in school there and they arranged to meet, after 50 years. It was simply beautiful as they hugged each other. Her friend, a Moslem, had become a doctor and a deputy mayor of Bukhara and the delight of the two women was very special. We went on to the Jewish Cemetery where Gabi’s parents were buried. It took a while to find the graves but he visited them for the first time in 50 years. Born Gregory, Gabi came to Israel and went on to become a senior building engineer in the Tel Aviv municipality.

Of course, in both Bukhara and Samarkand we visited the synagogues, and in Samarkand we met the current leader of the dwindling community consisting only of adults, all the young families have left. Both synagogues were built in local architecture around which the community lived. The tour was definitely enhanced by the large family that were on a “roots” journey, with origins in Iran and Uzbekistan. Their point of view was enlightening and enriching.

It was an important journey, fascinating, understanding that Islam can be a tolerant and generous religion allowing freedom of prayer to others. Public medicine is free, basic but free to all including tourists. Of course, as a group we touched on local politics in Israel, but we kept it at a humorous level to ensure that friendship was not lost on the vagaries of politicians! One thing one notices immediately, indeed one cannot escape from it, is the number of steps, stairs and kerbs, all of ridiculous depth, absolutely everywhere!  Entrances to hotels and the halls within, including to dining areas, are only attainable by numerous steps up and down and climbing up to our coach was a mountaineering experience!! Perhaps Uzbekistan is best explained through its decoration – the simple oblong tiles in mostly blue and green that when put together make exquisite patterns and the women’s dresses of fantastic cotton and silk designs, simple basic materials that are turned into works of art.

I learned a great deal from the incredible kindness of our local guide, Mohammed – Mukhammadjon Ynusov. A devout Moslem he chose to look outward and learn about others. His intelligent kindness is a fine example of how the young of Uzbekistan are taught.

As the aeroplane touched down on the blessed tarmac of Ben Gurion airport and the group split and went our various ways home, we had a sense of understanding as to how frail is democracy, but how by teaching one’s children kindness and tolerance, speaking in polite terms, an entire nation can overcome even the giant Russian Bear.

Our drive from the airport was as exciting as always, the butterflies in my tummy flapping their wings faster and faster as we neared home. That last Aliyah, that final climb toward Jerusalem and our turn off to arrive home will always make me happy. Of course, the first thing I did was to walk out onto the veranda, look over to Jerusalem in the distance and then say hello to all the trees and flowers. There was one strawberry waiting for me to pick, to give to Zvi with his breakfast; the tomatoes and peppers are doing very nicely thank you and the citrus trees, lemon, lime, kumquat and orange are burgeoning, even giving new blossom and a second potential crop. As wonderful as it is to go on one’s travels there is nothing in this world like home.

Tonight we celebrate the last weekly reading of the Torah and then we dance and sing as we begin the process all over again, back to Genesis. It is a truly magnificent  celebration, as the children dance with their parents, or fathers, whichever is their choice, and get the extra special enticement of sweet treats. Perhaps it is most appropriate to read Rabbi Jeremy Rosen’s assessment, not only of the festival but of what is means to be a Jew through the eyes of Benjamin Disraeli

May we always celebrate our Torah, our Bible, in whatever language, irrespective of Synagogue, Temple, church or Mosque. May tolerance be the watchword and kindness and joy the path.

Intolerance to religious expression seems to be the order of the day but it doesn’t have to be. There is a place for all of us, all streams of all religions, because when it comes down to it, our relationship with the Almighty is exactly that OUR relationship with the Almighty and is nobody else’s business! Here we see a joyous celebration of Simchat Torah as young people dance through the streets of Tel Aviv. I would hate to think it is a thing of the past.

Koolulam is all about bringing us together, whatever our beliefs, through music. I love this one “One Day” written by Matisyahu, The words echo my own feelings which is why I am so deeply involved with Impact-se ( ) Listen carefully to the words……..

Sometimes I lay under the moon, And thank God I’m breathin’
Then I pray, “Don’t take me soon, ‘Cause I am here for a reason”

Sometimes in my tears I drown, But I never let it get me down
So when negativity surrounds, I know someday, it’ll all turn around because

All my life, I’ve been waitin’ for, I’ve been prayin’ for, for the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more, There’ll be no more wars, and our children will play

The stories of the terrible suffering of soldiers of the IDF during the Yom Kippur war and our boys, the grandchildren of those who survived who are now fighting a terrifying guerilla war against religious zealots funded by Iran. Yaakov Shwekey blesses the soldiers of the IDF with the ancient words of our forefathers.  “May the Almighty protect them and keep far from harm” Amen.

So here we are, back after a very welcome 10 day ban on politics, touring a fascinating culture….and I admit that it felt so good without raised voices and accusations. I just pray that both sides of the religious spectrum will come to understand that, as I said earlier, one’s level of belief and observance is nobody’s business but our own.

Shabbat Shalom, Chag Sameach and of course a Holy Tabernacles.

With love