Awaiting an Answer to an Important Question


City Council member Karen Koslowitz (in picture far left) met with members of the Bukharian Jewish community in Forest Hills (Photos via Bukharian Times)

City Council member Karen Koslowitz (in photo far left) met with members of the Bukharian Jewish community in Forest Hills (Photos via Bukharian Times)

Members of the Bukharian Jewish community and Jewish activists in Forest Hills and Rego Park met with City Council member Karen Koslowitz on Nov. 29 and discussed the massive fires that hit the homes of Bukharian families in Forest Hills.

Attorney Aaron Boruhov opened the meeting.

  • Events that happened recently in the life of Bukharian Jews dramatically changed their attitude to living in Queens, he pointed out. Our community in Queens is facing this kind of issue for the first time and we are mobilizing all our power to stand against arsonists.
  • The community is concerned about the arsons that started a few weeks ago, Boruhov said. The arson fires are still occurring, but no one has been caught yet.

The president of the Bukharian Jewish Congress of the United States and Canada, Boris Kandov, shares the same concern:

  • From now on all the events happening inside the community will be perceived in terms of [whether they occurred] before or after this series of arsons. However, there is no big panic inside the community yet.

After thanking Karen Koslowitz for the good work she has done for the Bukharian Jewish community, Aaron asked her what kind of help the community could expect from her [with respect to the arsons].

Karen Koslowitz said she was sorry for the awful arsons that have occurred in the area where Bukharian Jews live. Then she pointed out that she already provided funding for the installation of 10 cameras in high-risk areas, including Cord Meyer. The footage from surveillance cameras will be observed live by the 112th police precinct. Koslowitz said that she has already spoken to the local fire department and the police chief and they are continuing an active investigation of what happened.

  • We will be waiting for the results of the detectives’ work, she said.

The current situation turned out to be very difficult. The police and investigators are working [on the case], interrogations are taking place, but still there is no evidence of someone’s guilt.

I showed members of the meeting the latest newspapers with articles about the arsons, which has changed our lives tremendously.

  • We had lived in the USSR and were sure that the Jewish communities in the U.S. and Israel would be on our side and support us, I said. And now we live in New York, the city with the biggest and the most powerful Jewish community in the world, but we don’t feel the support from them, which we expected to have. No one came to the families who suffered from the arsons; only a few politicians called us. If this happened in France or in Russia all the newspapers in the U.S would cover it. But for some reason even The Jewish Week decided not to talk about the sad incidents involving the homes of Bukharian Jews. All of this is the result of negative representations of Bukharian Jews, which some in the media have built within the past few years. (Yesterday the Jewish Week published an article about the arsons. Our meeting with them was not in vain!)
  • Incentives for protest are rising among the community’s members, I concluded.

Karen Koslowitz immediately reacted to my statement.

  • If you are going to protest I will protest with you, she said. Tell me the date!

Jack Gostl, the president of the Forest Hills Jewish Center, pointed out the need to bring together all the residents in the area. He said that all Jews, no matter which synagogue they attend, are concerned about a situation that is completely different from anything that has happened before in the area.

  • If you need any help or action from us we are willing to provide you with that immediately, he said.

There were those at the meeting who suffered from the acts of the arsonist and lost almost an entire recently-built house: Robert Shimunov and Eduard Shamaev. They are downcast because of those incidents and waiting for constructive actions to solve the current problems.

Raphael Usupov, the vice president of the Samarkand Foundation, took to heart the state of emergency in the community.

  • I think actions of this kind should be regarded as terrorist attacks, he stated. Arson of a Bukharian Jew’s home happens every week. Why is our government so interested in Syria, but pays no attention to inhabitants’ safety living in the megalopolis? What should we do when we see threats on websites from Muslim radicals and central Asian refugees who fight with ISIS and claim to terrorize the U.S. and Europe?

However, I understand we can hardly classify the events that happened in the community as terrorist attacks. Otherwise we could refer to all criminal acts as terrorism. There are several definitions of terrorism. One of them is qualified as a threat of a physical reprisal because of political or any other beliefs. It can be expressed in human violence up to complete extermination.

In our case there are no political enemies, fortunately no one was killed or kidnapped, no one pushed us for a certain way of conduct. But, who knows.

I asked Aaron Boruhov to comment on our thoughts, as he and the center’s management have worked closely with politicians, police officers and detectives from the first days of the investigation.

  • This is truly a critical issue, he pointed out. I talked to Judith Harrison, the head of the 112th police precinct; she also expressed her concerns and sympathy to us. She said that her department is doing much work to prevent arsons in the future. The question of installing new surveillance cameras in the area is being discussed. During the investigation witnesses said they suspected a man with dark skin and Latino ethnicity with a height of around 5′ 6″  to 5’ 7″. However, after additional questioning it became clear that he couldn’t be a suspect.

To Aaron Boruhov’s question on when new cameras are going to be installed, Harrison replied that this process will take a little time, but she will talk to the city’s authorities before the end of the investigation to take emergency measures for preventing new arsons.

  • As I understand it, Boruhov said, these are different cameras from those that Karen Koslowitz had talked about.

Dorothy Mahlab came to America as a little girl from Iraq. She remembers the times when ads [and signs] with racist and anti-Semitic statements – “Jews and dogs are not allowed to enter!” – were quite common; she tried to calm down her Bukharian contemporaries at the meeting.

  • It’s not the worst time for Jews in the country, she said. The time will pass and everything will become clear. I want to assure you that we, your neighbors, came here not only to share your pain and express our sympathy, but also to do as much as possible to prevent that from happening again.

The discussion finished with the creation of an organizing committee to coordinate additional safety methods in the neighborhood such as patrolling the area with a private security service and the installation of private cameras.

Aaron Boruhov has already started negotiating with different private security companies to determine the optimal one.

I met Haim Mitnizky – the manager of private security organization SafeZone24 –at the Bukharian Jewish Center on Dec. 3. He was invited to boost the security of the center’s building.

  • I am from Kiev and things you told me remind me of the horrific events that happened in Ukraine in the last century, he said. I believe that the Anti-Defamation League, the FBI and David Pollock from JCRC [Jewish Community Relations Council] could activate people and the community in the right direction to deal with this problem.

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