The 2,000-member Jewish community of Kyrgyzstan suddenly lives in fear following an attack on its only synagogue after rebels last week apparently overthrew the government in a bloody uprising in which more than 80 people were killed.
The Chabad-Lubavitch synagogue in Bishkek was firebombed, and the local Jewish school temporarily shut its doors as a precaution. “We ask that everyone keep the people of Kyrgyzstan in their prayers," Chabad Rabbi Aryeh Reichman told Lubavitch.com. "While we remain cautious, with the help of G-d, peace will soon be restored and life will return to normal."
He told Israel National News in a telephone interview that at least three firebombs exploded at the synagogue but did not cause any interior damage. Rabbi Reichman added that Jewish leaders have protested to the interim government and asked for protection against further anti-Semitic incidents. He added the rebels have taken up office in a parliament building that survived heavy damage in the uprising.
The Jewish community in the country has almost never experienced anti-Semitism before the rebellion last week. (Pictured at left is a Bar Mitzvah ceremony of a Bishkek Jewish boy at the Chabad synagogue.)
Several political observers have linked the attack with rebels’ anger at an American Jewish businessman, who is closely tied with the government of Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his son Maxim but who has no strong ties with the local Jewish community.
Posters scattered throughout Bishkek proclaimed, "Dirty Jews and all those like Maxim Bakiyev have no place in Kyrgyzstan."
Bakiyev has fled the capital and technically is in power but said he might resign if his safety were guaranteed. The violence began after a large protest against the election victory of Bakiyev, who has been accused of corruption.
Kyrgyzstan's tiny Jewish population mostly lives in the capital of Bishkek and largely comprises descendants of Eastern European and Bukharan Jews who relocated during the Second World War and Soviet Regime. Many of them are welfare recipients, and the Jewish Agency is actively processing applications for those wanting to move to Israel.
Rabbi Reichman, who has served in Bishkek since 2002 and lives with his wife and four children, remains optimistic and says there is no “direct danger” to the Jewish community. He said that 300 Jews participated in the recent Chabad community Passover Seder and that Jewish awareness is growing.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told a Washington think tank Tuesday that Kyrgyzstan “is on the brink of civil war” and could become a "second Afghanistan." A key American air base in the war against Afghani terrorists is located in Kyrgyzstan.
Chabad synagogue in Bishkek
Courtyard of the Chabad Synagogue