A measure of effectiveness for a community organization is based on who shows up. Last Sunday, the Alliance of Bukharian Americans (ABA), a nonprofit comprised of young leaders and activists in the community, held its first legislative breakfast at the Beth Gavriel Community Center in Forest Hills. The country’s largest Bukharian synagogue was packed with supporters and elected officials, who praised the organization and briefed them on their work.
“You are the leaders that make a difference in our lives,” said Rabbi Israel Itzhakov of the Beth Gavriel youth minyan. “We create leaders. Some people are born with leadership qualities and other people need a push to become leaders.” He delivered his remarks alongside Rabbi Imanuel Shimonov, the mara d’asra of Beth Gavriel. As an example, he spoke of an immigrant from Uzbekistan who has a voice but no religious training who wanted to be a chazan 20 years ago. “He has to understand what he is reading. So we trained him and created a leader.”
“As a community we matter and we are about to do great things. We connect with people in the community,” said ABA board member David Mordukhaev. “Security has become more important for our not-for-profit institutions.”
ABA supporter Victoria Zirkiev introduced Rep. Grace Meng, who spoke of her efforts to combat anti-Semitism. “It has been a really tough year,” said Meng. “One of the newest subcommittees on which I sit within Appropriations is the Homeland Security Subcommittee, chaired by Nita Lowey.” She said that this is the legislative body that will examine hate crimes.
Mordukhaev introduced Councilman Rory Lancman, who met with him and other board members at the time of the ABA’s founding to offer advice. “He calls it ABA thinking. Anywhere you have Bukharian Jews, have a liaison and grow the network. That’s the message. Any community center can be like this. It has been working out very well,” said Mordukhaev.
At this time, the ABA has liaisons in Rego Park, Forest Hills, Fresh Meadows, Jamaica Estates, and Long Island, comprised of young professionals who connect these communities to elected officials, and in turn educate the elected officials on the needs of their constituents. “The measure of a community is how organized you are,” said Lancman.
On many participants’ minds was the chalk graffiti of swastikas and Nazi slogans in the schoolyard of P.S. 139 in Rego Park last week. “I was at the Board of Elections to cast my ballot early for Public Advocate and Karen pulled me over,” said State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky. “You have to see this.”
For Koslowitz, the sight of the anti-Semitic symbols brought back stories she heard from her mother of how her grandfather was murdered in Poland, which in turn inspired her family to emigrate. “I believe that it was done by a grown man,” she said about the swastikas. “They were too good to have been a child’s work.”
Koslowitz spoke of her first year on the City Council in 1991, when the dissolution of the Soviet Union resulted in a massive wave of Bukharian immigrants arriving in Queens. “Professionals came to my office who could not find jobs here. Doctors worked as hospital orderlies. I look at all of you today and I kvell at all that you have done.”
She said that as the community now speaks English, an interpreter is no longer necessary on her staff. “We now understand each other. You are all like family to me.” As she is term-limited, she expressed hope that her successor will be as attentive to the Bukharian Jewish community. “I absolutely will support you until I am not here anymore. I will be with you throughout.”
She introduced her colleague Chaim Deutsch, who also has a large Russian-speaking constituency in his southern Brooklyn district. As the chair of the Council’s Jewish Caucus, Deutsch spoke of legislation mandating the City’s five district attorneys to report motives of hate crimes to the Council. “We will then understand what further legislation we need to pass. Understanding the motive gives us a better understanding of how to legislate and what resources are needed.”
Other elected officials at the breakfast included State Attorney General Tish James; State Senators Joe Addabbo, John Liu, and Leroy Comrie; Assemblymen Dan Rosenthal and David Weprin; City Comptroller Scott Stringer; and Councilman Donovan Richards.
The breakfast also honored Ilya Koptiev and Simcha Elishaev, influential leaders and philanthropists who support many institutions and organizations in the community, while sharing the ABA’s mission of community empowerment.
Agudath Israel of America was represented by Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, who has also seen the organization grow in such a short time in becoming an effective representative of Bukharian Jews in New York and beyond, sharing in the common goals of funding yeshivos, security for synagogues, and defending the State of Israel.
By Sergey Kadinsky