The Bukharan Neighborhood in Jerusalem founded in 1894, is considered one of the most magnificent neighborhoods in the city. The parcel of land on which the neighborhood sits was bought by 2 respected members of the community – Shlomo Moussaieff and Yosef Kohjinoff. They, and many other Bukharan Jews answered the call to return to Jerusalem, and built large, spacious, luxurious homes.
One of the most famous homes, both because of its splendor and the way it was transformed throughout the years, is the Yehudayof-Khefez House which was built at the beginning of the 20th century in the Italian style. It is called “The Palace” because of its beautiful facade, spacious rooms, drawings of nature and Jewish themes which decorate its walls and, of course, the large synagogue which is housed within. Referring to the house in his novel, Shira, the Nobel prize winning novelist, S.Y. Agnon wrote, “The largest of all was the luxurious home which was built for the Messiah himself, so that when he, in righteousness, initially comes to Jerusalem, he will come and the elders and the kings and the officers and the men of the Great Assembly will be greeted at a reception along with many respected righteous people; and our brothers from Bukhara will prepare for them a large, good house.”
With the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Bukharan Jews were unable to support the neighborhood. The Bukharan community lapsed into poverty, the population dwindled and today the neighborhood is populated by the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish population.
Despite the many years which have passed since the first arrival of the Bukharan community, the culinary traditions have been proudly preserved and today stand at the center of Bukharan cultural life.
The Bukharan kitchen is famous for a variety of spices, flavors and colors. Among the better-known dishes are the various kinds of stuffed pockets: manti, goshtgizhda, and chebureki, which are made with interesting combinations of special dough, filled with meat, onions and other vegetables. One of the secrets of Bukharan cooking lies in the art of steaming these stuffed pockets. Another Bukharan dish is osh palov – a rice and lamb dish, served in the center of a low table at which the diners sit on the floor. The recipes for osh palov differ according to the various regions of Uzbekistan and you can find different versions within the Bukharan community in Israel.
Another colorful tradition is the traditional Bukharan dress, which characterizes central motifs and gold thread symbolizing abundance and wealth. In modern times, these costumes are used for special occasions and festivals.
Men’s attire consists of a long, silk cloak called “joma”, embroidered with gold thread; and “kalpoq”, a special hat embroidered with gold and other colorful threads. The women wear a wide dress called a “korta”, made from silk fabric embroidered with velvet and intertwined with gold thread. Women also wear the “kalpoq”, wrapped in a scarf called a “nomol”, embroidered with beads and sequins. The forehead is adorned with a pearl and gold chain which is called a “ferghana”.
The history of the Bukharan community and the transition of the neighborhood, which has changed appearance and population greatly through the years, tells a fascinating, ancient, time-honored Jerusalem story. The traditions and customs of this glorious community, its decline, changes and hopes are hidden within the story.
The community’s story gives us a backdrop from which to view the buildings of the neighborhoods and its alleyways – from the architectural gems which remain as witness to a previous time of glory, to the simple dwellings which exemplify a different side of the neighborhood and its residents through the years. According to the beautiful words of the author, Dan Benaya Seri, who was born in this neighborhood:
“Slightly to the north, in the boundaries of the proud Bukharan neighborhood, in the place where God has not yet separated between water and mud, stands the neighborhood of my childhood. Unlike the crystal, magnificent Bukharan neighborhood, our neighborhood was built with a small amount of beauty and a lot of human imagination. Small houses, tiled roofs, simple wooden doors which were never locked, open to all, like Abraham’s tent, even at night.
And so, with this hospitality, so it was with life in the neighborhood. In the summer the residents learned to live with the thorns and the flower pots, and in the winter the mud and the rain embraced like lovers. Also the water pipes which were in the neighborhood, those that were in use, were like pastures especially entrusted to the mosquitoes. In the orchards, as well, all sorts of creatures took flight on their Bukharan wings, or tried to squirm through the innocent dust to dig for their daily bread. There were those who spent their income on a Shabbat dinner, and those who kept to themselves and were satisfied with the smells from their neighbors’ tables; all these walk the streets of the neighborhood as if they now arose together from the table of Aaron, the High Priest.”
(From “A Man Returns Home”)