Treasures From the Silk Road: A Leap Into the Life of Bukharan Jewry

The story of Bukharan Jewry and contemporary Bukharan art are at the heart of a new exhibition at the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv.

Ellie Armon Azoulay
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Ellie Armon Azoulay

A comprehensive exhibition called “Threads of Silk: The Story of Bukharan Jewry” is set to open on Friday at the Museum of the Jewish People on the Tel Aviv University campus. It will include dozens of historical objects from various periods, including clothing, household items, jewelry, embroidery done with silk thread, alongside photographs and documents. All these reflect the life and culture of the Bukharan community abroad and in present-day Israel.

“Threads of Silk” follows the museum’s successful exhibition about Iranian Jewry, which included a fascinating mixture of historical materials and works of contemporary art.

The exhibition’s name was inspired by the location of the Bukharan community on the Silk Road, which was once the central trade route – for the silk trade, among others – between the Far East and Europe. Bukharan Jewry got its name from the city of Bukhara, the capital of the Bukharan emirate in Uzbekistan, where most of the country’s Jews lived in the 19th century. Some claim that they are descendants of Persian Jewry.

The curators, Orit Engelberg Baram and Dr. Meirav Balas, say that “the space in which the identity of the community was formed is represented by means of items related to life on the Silk Road and to the life of the Jewish community as a minority. On the personal level, the exhibition focuses on the unification between man and wife, and starting a family – the most significant unit in the life of the Bukharan community.”

Another section of the exhibition is dedicated to the connection between the community and the Land of Israel, with Zionist ideology and the pilgrimage to Israel. This section describes the establishment of the Bukharan neighborhood in Jerusalem in the late 19th century, as well as the major immigration to Israel with the fall of the Iron Curtain. The treasures on display attest to the fact that many members of the community managed to bring their valuable property with them, and most of the immigrants also saved many photos and documents from their previous lives.

Alongside the historical materials is a selection of photographs by photographers Zion Ozeri and Neil Folberg, which document the Bukharan community in recent years, and there are also works of contemporary art by Bukharan artists, such as Rima Arselnov and Artur Yakubov.

A comprehensive catalogue (270 pages, designed by Magen Halutz) in three languages (Hebrew, English and Russian) accompanies the exhibition. It includes articles by scholars as well as color and black-and-white photos of the exhibits. In conjunction with the exhibition, the museum will hold an academic conference (in Hebrew) on Jewish Communities in Central Asia, this Sunday beginning at 10 A.M.

Rimma Arslanov, Untitled, 2005.Credit: Courtesy

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