Sunday, February 26, 2006

Demolition in Dushanbe: Doesn’t Anyone Care About Tajikistan’s Synagogue?

I don’t often agree with my friend Ze’ev over at Israel Perspectives; but in his latest post, he’s alerted us to an issue that truly demands our attention and outrage, as well as that of the Israeli government: the destruction of Tajikistan's only synagogue.

My previous positions may not recommend me as the world’s most enthusiastic opponent of synagogue demolitions: a few months ago I wrote that the Israeli government should have demolished the Gaza Strip synagogues itself rather than waiting for the Palestinians to do the job (and kvetching when they did). There is a critical difference, though, between demolishing synagogues that no longer function – empty shells bereft of Jews, holy books, and all other meaningful signs of life – and tearing down synagogues that continue to serve living Jewish communities, as the synagogue in Dushanbe does. Several hundred Jews in Tajikistan are now (or soon will be – the demolition has begun, but will not be completed for a few months) without a synagogue; while they have evidently been offered land somewhere to build a new one, they cannot afford to do so. The remaining Jews there are mostly elderly and poor, and they have been offered no compensation from their government for the destruction of their old synagogue.

Ze’ev wrote:

One might have expected the government of the State of Israel to try and intervene in the matter, and save this century old synagogue from being destroyed, yet the government of the State of Israel has been strangely silent.

…and I must say that I agree with him completely on this point. A Google search revealed no articles about Israeli protests (official or otherwise) against this demolition; the United States and the rest of the West also appear to have been rather quiet. No doubt the Americans and the Europeans have other things on their mind at the moment, but even so I would have thought that some Deputy Assistant Under-Secretary of State or other could have picked up a phone and called the government of Tajikistan. How much pressure would really have been required to get them to save (or appropriately relocate) a single little synagogue?

If we can reluctantly forgive the rest of the world for its silence on the Dushanbe synagogue – and I can’t really, not completely, but you’re welcome to do so – what’s our own government’s excuse? Surely Ehud Olmert should welcome the opportunity to prove his yiddishkeit at minimal expense! And standing up to the fearsome Tajiks wouldn’t be a bad stature-builder for Tzipi Livni, who would very much like to remain Foreign Minister after our upcoming elections. Perhaps nobody alerted our senior politicians to the issue; but after all, we have people in the Foreign Ministry who are paid to follow this stuff, don’t we?

It’s not too late to do something about this. Rather than use the Dushanbe demolition as yet another piece of election-year ammunition (and Lord knows we don’t lack for political brickbats just now), I’d like to propose that we do something positive: Write about this issue, talk about it, pick up the phone! Let our government (and maybe a few other governments) know that this is important! Get the big human-rights organizations on the case! March in front of the Tajik embassy!

If we do all this, perhaps we can enable the Jews of Tajikistan to continue to function as a religious and social community – perhaps not one with a great future, but at least one that will live out its days in some comfort and dignity. This, I believe, is a goal that we can all agree on.

(This post can also be found at the Guns and Butter Blog.)

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