A century of family history came full circle on Shabbos Chanukah in Forest Hills. Linking past and present was a sefer Torah that survived transport across continents to its current makom in Queens. The present-day story began three years ago when Rabbi Michael Fuzaylov, who runs Emet Outreach’s Level 2 Men’s Division, and his wife Dina moved their family from Kew Gardens to Forest Hills. Their goal was to open their home to Emet students, many of whom live in the area, for meals and learning on Shabbos and Yom Tov.
The Fuzaylovs’ warmth, hospitality, and delicious food have ensured that their home has been filled to capacity. “It’s been wonderful to be able to spend Shabbos with Emet students and to connect with them on a more spiritual level in addition to learning with them during the week,” Rabbi Fuzaylov said. “Recently, students started asking if I could start an Emet shul. They expressed a desire to daven in a minyan where they would feel comfortable asking questions without being intimidated. I decided to try to make it happen.”
The first Shacharis minyan was scheduled for Shabbos Chanukah, which was also Rosh Chodesh Teves and Parshas MiKeitz. This meant that three Torah scrolls would be needed for leining. “It’s not that easy to borrow a sefer Torah in a busy community on a busy Shabbos, let alone three.” Rabbi Fuzaylov said. “I asked my uncle Dr. Oleg Fuzaylov if he could loan me my family’s sefer Torah, which has been kept in Rabbi Walkin’s shul in Kew Gardens. Thankfully, he said yes!” This is where the story gets interesting.
To understand the significance of the sefer Torah, the real story begins in Uzbekistan at the turn of the 20th Century in the heart of the Bukharian community. Abo Rubinov was left to raise his newborn daughter Osnat alone when his wife Leah passed away three days after childbirth. To mark the first yahrzeit, Abo commissioned a sefer Torah in Leah’s memory as a gift to his daughter. The Torah was written in Eretz Yisrael and then transported to Uzbekistan right before the Soviets took over and Jewish observance was restricted for decades. The sefer Torah had to be hidden and was eventually brought to Israel in the 1990s and finally to Queens. Abo was Rabbi Fuzaylov’s great-great grandfather. Osnat was his great-grandmother and the mother of his grandfather Rafael Fuzaylov.
Back to the present. On Erev Shabbos, in the midst of treacherous winds and hail, Rabbi Fuzaylov carried the delicate Torah into his home, where the minyan was held. Shabbos brought record-breaking frigid temperatures, but the men still came to daven together on Friday night and Shabbos day. “It was a really interesting coincidence that we read MiKeitz during our first minyan, since the name Osnat appears in this parshah in reference to Yosef’s wife,” Rabbi Fuzaylov explained. “Here I was, on Chanukah, Osnat’s great-grandson, using her sefer Torah to undo the curse of the Soviet Union that had embittered her life, and stripped Judaism from her children. As I was up for the third aliyah, it felt surreal to read her name. I was in awe of seeing the Divine hand orchestrating the events.”
The significance of the first minyan being on Shabbos Chanukah is not lost on Rabbi Fuzaylov, who makes an analogy. “Starting this minyan is following the tradition of what Chanukah is all about – bringing light into darkness,” he said. “Being a part of the staff at Emet is like being a part of the modern Maccabees. We’re trying to bring Torah back. We’re fighting off the damage of what the communists did to the Bukharian Jews who were kept in the darkness for decades.” Another amazing part of the story is that Rabbi Fuzaylov is actually named after Osnat’s husband, Rabbi Michael Fuzaylov. He is the first rabbi in the family since his great-grandfather.
The minyan generated a lot of excitement and will continue this weekend. Jonathan K., a longtime Emet student, said, “Rabbi Fuzaylov has dedicated his life to helping his local community. I’ve known him since I was 20 years old, and he’s been such a guiding figure to me and so many others. The importance of his having this neighborhood minyan is that it’s a place for younger Jewish men to come together and feel personally connected and not swept up in the larger community. They, in turn, bring those wholesome and happy connections back to their own families. It was a great minyan and good davening, but it’s more than the minyan. It’s a community.”
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