The Eden Palace wedding hall in Williamsburg was packed last Sunday evening, for a special event to save the future of the Bukharian Jewish community of Queens.
The emergency event was organized by the Vaad Hatzolas Doros Bukharia, a committee of Rabbanim and askanim dedicated to ensure that the children of that community can receive a frum chinuch.
The Vaad was founded at the call of the Kaliver Rebbe of Williamsburg, shlita, a leading force in global kiruv work. Some of the most active partners in this effort are Rabbi Ilan Meirov and Rabbi Yaniv Meirov of CHAZAQ in Queens, along with the Bukharian Chief Rabbi and other prestigious Rabbanim in the community.
Over the past two years, over 550 Bukharian Jewish boys and girls, who were in public school or destined to go there, were enrolled in Torah-true mosdos hachinuch as a result of the work of the Vaad and affiliated Rabbanim and askanim.
A full office operates in Queens focused exclusively on yeshivah placement for local Bukharian families, working on a sensitive, individualized basis.
Additionally, the Vaad and CHAZAQ operate an after-school program that provides a basic Torah chinuch to children who are transitioning from public school to yeshivah.
Needless to say, few, if any, of these children would remain frum in the long term if they were in public school throughout their school years. Each child that was helped represents countless neshamos saved for generations.
Still, much more needs to be done. Some 10,000 of the community’s children remain in public school today, on track for a secular lifestyle. The intermarriage rate among public school graduates is approximately 80 percent, Rachmana litzlan.
As indicated by the previous successes, these children can be saved! The Bukharian community has a strong reverence for Jewish tradition and resistance to assimilation, even among those who aren’t observant. It is the lack of an infrastructure of community mosdos and the failure of parents to realize the devastating consequences of a public school education that has deprived these neshamos of a Torah chinuch. With the proper leadership and resources, these realities are being changed.
The Bukharian Chief Rabbi of the United States and Canada, Rabbi Yitzhak Israeli, declared to the crowd the ultimate goal: “Not one Jewish soul will remain in public school!”
Rabbi Igal Haimoff, a prominent Bukharian Rav, tearfully described how he loses sleep over the situation, wondering whether we can tell Shamayim that we’ve done all we can to save these generations of neshamos.
Others who electrified the crowd included Reb Yechezkel Roth, a prominent askan; Rockland County legislator Mr. Aaron Wieder; Rabbi Meir Zweibel, Rav of Bais Medrash Kedushas Yom Tov Satmar; Rabbi Pinchos Katz, Dayan, Satmar- Throop Avenue; and Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Harfenes, Rav, Khal Yisroel V’Hazmanim.
All hearts were warmed as a choir of young Bukharian boys sang traditional songs on stage, glowing with a distinct Yiddishe chein. Subsequently, a panel of Bukharian teenagers in public school shared their experiences with the audience — moderated by Rabbi Ilan Meirov, highlighting in real life the importance of the Vaad’s activities.
Sunday’s gathering woke up New York’s chareidi community to the spiritual Holocaust, as Rabbi Harfenes described it, occurring just miles away, and has motivated a widespread desire to assist the Gedolei Yisrael working to continue reversing the trend.