Monday, August 18, 2008

Aug 16 - Tashkent

It was Saturday morning in Tashkent - the first town with Jews on our whole trip (other than Beijing with its expats). So at 9:30 am, we pulled out our internet list of synagogues in Tashkent. Both of the addresses of the synagogues turned out to be in our neighborhood. One (the Ashkenazi) was on 15 Sepyornaya Street. The other, the Chabad of Tashkent, was on 15 Second Kunaeva Street.

The instructions were to walk up to the main street, then several blocks to the large intersection with the Grand Mir Hotel on one corner. That cross street was Kunaeva Street, but no one at our hotel had heard of Second Kunaeva Street. So we walked to the corner, and turned left on Kunaeva, also known as Mirabod Street. After a while, we stopped at a little store, and asked. It turned out the street we were on was also Sepyornaya Street, and 15 no longer contained a building. We walked a little farther to the British Consulate, which also contained a German Cultural Association on the property.

A gentleman our age approached and asked if he could speak with us in German to give us instructions. It turns out that he is a German born in Khiva, a far corner in Uzbekistan. (He was part of a German community moved there in Stalin's time.) As best as we could understand, he told us that the street had three names (Sepyornaya, Kunaeva, and the current one, Mirabod). He told us to walk back 150 meters, turn right into the neighborhood, and the synagogue would be found shortly after we had seen a Romanian Bund.

So we walked back that distance, and found ourselves in the middle of a large apartment block, albeit one with a Jewish star graffiti on the wall. Back on the street, we flagged down a young man, who made several phone calls on our behalf. Finally, 10 minutes later, he drew us a very detailed map: (1) walk back past the Grand Mir and keep going on the other side of the intersection; (2) pass a cafe and a "Moiya" involving "maschina" (cars); (3) turn right and go about 100 meters.

It was now close to 11 am. We figured that we might possibly get to the synagogue in time to shake the hands of the departing worshippers.

The directions were perfect. A Moiya is a carwash. The road we turned on was "Mirabod - 2". Puzzle solved. When Kunaeva was renamed Mirabod, Kunaeva - 1 was renamed Mirabod - 1, Kunaeva - 2 was renamed Mirabod - 2, etc. Of course!

Exactly 100 meters on the Mirabod - 2 road was the Chabad synagogue complex, surrounded by a tall iron fence. Unlike in Europe or Argentina, we walked right in - no guards or police demanding passports. We were now approximately 500 meters from our hotel. We had walked a grand circle of several kilometers, in search of the elusive address.

It was past 11 am by this time. Carol was chased upstairs to the women's balcony. They were just getting ready to read the Torah. But first the Rabbi gave a sermon. As best as we understood, he was drawing a relationship between parts of the body and specific letters in the torah reading. 45 minutes later, they were truly ready to read the Torah.

After 1 pm the service was over. We are so glad we did not get there on time, whenever that was. They had a nice table set, with three delicious salads, wine, cola, soda. Carol got her own table on the far side of the room. (No mixing of sexes). The ten other male congregants (two of whom were Chabad Rabbis) were hungry, and everything quickly disappeared. Even the cholent meat dish that appeared later quickly was gone. After some singing, it was now 2:30 pm and time for the afternoon prayer (mincha). Carol and Mike had had enough and said their goodbyes.

This congregation consisted at least in part of Jews who were not together enough to have left the country. A few really understood the service and could read Hebrew and interact with the Rabbi during the question and answer portion of the sermon. However, one collected all the little undrunk cups of vodka and poured it into a small bottle he carried on his person. Another was so grateful for the meal that he took off his shirt and was in an undershirt. Chabad seems to be doing missionary work in Tashkent, rather than supporting an existing community.

We went back to the hotel and called the family we had met on the bus to Andijon. They were happy to meet us and we arranged for them to pick us up at the hotel the next day at 2 pm, show us the town, and feed us their family's special plov.

So after 3 pm we began our journey toward downtown to (1) get some maps of Tashkent; and (2) buy some chocolates for our upcoming visit.

The bus and tram system of Tashkent seems to be on a "need-to-know" basis - if you don't need to know how to get from place 1 to place 2, you are not entitled to know that information. So, not knowing where tram 9 went, we decided to take tram 9, the one that ran on the main street near our hotel. Surely it would go downtown.

It turned past a local bazaar, and kept on turning in the wrong direction. So after the second turn in the wrong direction, we got out. We were adjacent to a large Eastern Orthodox Church complex. We started walking the 5 or so blocks to the bookstore. The sky was blustery, and the wind was picking up. It almost looked like it was going to rain - but of course this is desert, and it never rains.

Finally, we got to the bookstore, passing our favorite local chain: "Sport & Jeans & Baby." Goodness knows what they actually sell.

The bookstore was staffed entirely by Russians, and contained nary a book in Uzbek, as nearly as we could tell in our cursory view of the store. The saleslady was hardly dressed at all, revealing a very ample bust, with not much in front preventing a good view. No Uzbek woman we saw would dress that way. Tashkent seems to be substantially divided between Russians and Uzbeks, with large portions of town for each ethnic group. Goodness knows how well they get along. Anyway, the store was doing no business while we were there, with 3 bored salespeople for 2 customers.

A 37 bus (see, by now they were willing to reveal their precious information) took us straight to TsUM, the big department store in town. Rather depressing by modern standards, with not a whole lot of merchandise on the floors. But on the basement floor, they had chocolates, and some cold drinks. So we bought the cold drinks (when you are really really thirsty and need just water, it is hard to drink enough plain water, so you start off with a liter of cold cola or soda, or a liter of some kind of cold tea drink, and only then can you drink your water).

We walked the 5 blocks or so to the metro station where several people had told us that we would find transit information. No luck. But there was a 57 bus to take us back to the hotel.

It was now 6 pm, and time for three hours of interest to try to catch up. Then to bed.

1 comment:

Timothy said...

I'm always amazed at the small communities that seem to thrive in areas of the world where they are not ... welcome? Well, maybe "welcome" isn't the right word. But a Jewish community in Tashkent sounds so ... unique.