Sixth synagogue opens in majority-Muslim Kazakhstan since country declared independence from USSR

Alexander Baron of Kazakhstan met with Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) during his visit last week to Washington. Photo provided

A new synagogue opened in Kazakhstan this month, the sixth since this majority-Muslim country declared independence after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Chabad Lubavitch Karaganda, named for the city in which it is located, is just one more sign that the Jewish community, while small, is thriving, said Alexander Baron, president of the Mitzvah Association of the Jewish National Organization of Kazakhstan.

Baron, who also is cochairman of the Vaad CIS Federation of Jewish Organization and Communities in Russia, was in Washington last week to attend AJC’s Global Forum.

Prior to that, he participated on June 10 and 11 in the World Congress of Religious Leaders, which was held in Kazakhstan, a Central Asian country that was a former Soviet republic. Also attending were Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who spoke about the boycott movement facing his country, and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

“It’s a known fact that anti-Semitism is growing around the world,” in Europe and in the Ukraine, Baron said. But, he said, anti-Semitism is not a problem in Kazakhstan. His country was “never mentioned” in a report on this subject by the Euro-Asian Jewish Conference, he said.

That report pointed to “Judophobic propaganda” in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Ukraine.

However, according to the Anti-Defamation League, 32 percent of the Kazakhstan people harbor anti-Semitic attitudes. The findings came from a questionnaire that asked people to respond to such statements as “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to” Kazakhstan and “Jews have too much power” in the fields of business and finance.

Baron, speaking through an interpreter, seemed surprised by the ADL report, saying he didn’t know where that information came from. He said he knows many Jews, and “no one ever told him somebody pressured them, because of their nationality or religion.”

When asked why some of Kazakhstan’s Jews were moving to Israel, Baron attributed that mainly to the desire to be with family members, not because they felt

“Times are nothing like they were” when the Soviet Union existed, he said.

There are more than 50,000 Jewish people in Kazakhstan, a country with 17.5 million people that extends from the Caspian Sea on the east to the Altai Mountains at its eastern border with China and Russia.  Many of the Jewish residents are Ashkenazi.

During Soviet rule, thousands of Jews were exiled and ended up in Kazakhstan. Others arrived there after fleeing the Holocaust.

“These people lost everything, their house, their money, their profession, everything,” said Baron, who is proud of how his country welcomed them.

“It is important we should think about the heroism of the people” who aided these refugees, he said.

“Unfortunately, we don’t yet pay tribute to the people who saved all these refugees.”

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