synagogue_almaty.jpgWith Borat on the minds of most American Jews, a man who cringes at the sight of Jews, one might think that this Central Asian republic is Judenrien. Well, there are Jews in Kazakhstan. As it says on They have 35,000 Jews and two capitals. Sounds very Jewish.

On a recent speaking tour, Rabbi Shevach Zlotopolsky of Almaty, Kazakhstan, principal of the Ohr Avner Jewish School, a traditional faith-based school and orphanage in Almaty with 200 Jewish children as enrolled students as well as another 20 orphans spoke to in Sharon, MA.

The organizers of the event in Sharon, a couple that had gone to Kazachstan to adobt, have now become unofficial ambassadors for the country’s small Jewish community.

Our main goals for this presentation and our ongoing efforts overall is raise money and awareness for the school and for the Jewish community in Kazakhstan. Part of this is to let people know even that there is a Jewish community in Kazakhstan,” said Marsha Schaffel at the presentation event.

And who else is going to go to such a far-flung place, and open up a Jewish school and orphanage? Well, what movement would go there… Hmmm.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library:

Today, between 12,000 and 30,000 Jews live in Kazakhstan. They are predominately Russian-speaking and identify with Russian culture. Approximately 2,000 are Bukharian and Tat (Caucasion Mountain Jews). Almaty is the main Jewish center of the country, with approximately 10,000. Smaller Jewish communities are spread out across this large country (four times the size of Texas) in places such as Karaganda, Chimkent, Astana, Semiplatinsk, Kokchetav, Dzhambul, Uralsk, Aktyubinsk, Petropavlovsk and several villages.

The JDC, and the Jewish Agency have projects there too, and compete with Chabad. I guess that they have seperate websites too. Jew-baiting is an issue, no matter how much the the Government of Kazakhstan denies this in nice ads in the NY Times.

While the Cheif Rabbi of Kazahkstan said recently there is no anti-Semitism today, the JVL reports that not so long ago, Jews were targets:

While anti-Semitism is not a great threat, it is still prevalent in Kazakhstan. Jews are occasionally beaten and harassed because of their identity. In 1997, after Kazakh KGB agents arrested Leonid Solomin, an independent Jewish labor leader and his associates, the Kazakh newspapers published a slew of anti-Semitic charges warning against “Zionists” and “international Jewry.” One even called upon the people to kill Jews.

No matter what the propogandists say the following are real:

National Games: Kyz Kuu and Kakpar

Kyz Kuu (“Overtake the girl”) is the game where young boys and girls are participants. The girl on the horse does her best to gallop from the young man but as soon as the latter tries to overtake (approach) her she lashes him with a whip. If, up to a certain place, the young boy fails to overtake her she would “reward” him with whipping again. When the luckiest catch up with the girl, he snatches a headscarf out of her teeth. If he is successful he earns a kiss.

Kokpar (“Fighting for a goat’s carcass”) is the most popular Kazakh game. It takes its origin from an ancient tradition according to which, one who wants to get rid of evil, should sacrifice a goat. Up to 1,000 horsemen take part in the game. The game unfolds on an almost infinite steppe range. On the opposite ends of an immense field they arrange goals of teams – adversaries. It is into them that the symbolic carcass of the goat should be thrown, while the throw proper is preceded by a desperate flight between the teams to get hold of the carcass.

Wedding ceremony

In Kazakh traditions wedding lasts 40 days beginning with matchmaking. Either the fiancé sends matchmakers to his bride’s parents, or he abducts his fiancée. In the first case the matchmakers, who are the fiancé’s relatives, bring rich gifts to the bride’s parents and ask their consent to the marriage. This negotiation is called the kudaga tusu. If the bride’ parents agree, then they fix the kalym (ransom) for the bride and the wedding day. Sometimes it is the bride who has the right to choose to accept the offer. Instead of direct refusal, the girl would give man some difficult and almost unrealizable task. A legend tells about such a case. Abylai Khan fell in love with a beautiful girl from a poor family. But she already had her intended – an ordinary warrior. As to not hurt Abylai Khan’s feelings and bring his anger on her family, the girl requested Khan shoot an arrow beyond the mountain near a lake. The girl went to a rock in the middle of the lake to watch the competition. However hard Khan tried to shoot the arrow high in the sky, it would not rise beyond the mountain. Since then, the mountain is called Okzhetpes, which means “unachievable with an arrow”. The girl had decided that if Khan fulfilled her task, she would jump from the rocky island onto the stones protruding out of the water. That is why the lake is called Zhumbaktas, which means “a riddle-stone”.

Kumys is a sour milk beverage made of mare’s milk. In new warm mare’s milk add about 25% of sour-milk bacillus ferment and milk yeast, stir us continuously with a whisk 20 to 30 mins. Let stand 2-3 hours, then stir again. In a little while, pour the blend in bowl, cover tightly and let stand in a cool place.

Finally there comes the capital treat – besbarmak. First they cover a large round or oval dish with small round flat pieces of boiled paste followed by small bars of boiled horse-meat or mutton, then comes onion cut in rings and scalded with hot broth, all this strewn with a green mixture of fennel, parsley and kinza…

Picture from The Weekly Edition of
That is the Kazkh Emb USA.

About the author

Rabbi Yonah