Somewhere in the middle of a Bukharian community celebration in Norcross, a Jewish revival meeting broke out Sunday night, Oct. 18.
The occasion was the dedication of three core attributes of any successful Jewish community: a synagogue, a mikvah and an outlet for lifelong Jewish learning.
Congregation Beit Yitzchak, which I’m embarrassed to say has often felt like a legend because of its lack of interaction with the Jewish Times both a decade ago and most of this year, had the ultimate homecoming and coming-out party at the same time.
The spectacle at the dinner in the sanctuary, which you can see in photos on Page 52, was wonderful. Two of the foundational rocks of Atlanta Orthodoxy, Ashkenazi Rabbi Ilan Feldman of Congregation Beth Jacob and Sephardic Rabbi Shmuel Khoshkerman of Congregation Ner Hamizrach, joined the chief rabbi of the Bukharian communities of the United States and Canada, Itzhak Yehoshua. The dean of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel, Rabbi David Silverman, was there with the executive directive and rosh kollel of Kollel Ner Hamizrach, Rabbi David Kapenstein and Rabbi Eliezer Cohen.
All of them have played their parts in nurturing Beit Yitzchak to this point.
Rabbi Khoshkerman, whom Rabbi Cohen said runs the Southeast as far as the Torah world is concerned, has offered guidance and support for two decades since the Bukharians made their way to Atlanta from Central Asia in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union. The new Kollel Beit Yitzchak, or Kollel BY, meeting on Tuesdays for now but aiming to expand until it’s an all-week operation, is an offshoot of Kollel NH, as Rabbi Cohen called it.
The rabbi taking on the responsibility of leading the community and the learning, Nathan Phuzayloff, found his way to full Torah observance under the teaching of Rabbi Silverman. Speaking last after several hours of speeches spread over two locations, the young rabbi told the story of Rabbi Silverman’s influence in transforming a nonkosher pizza cook into the man and scholar he is today.
A crowd mixing dozens of black-hatted rabbis from Toco Hills with the Bukharian families meant we got to hear English, Hebrew, Russian and a bit of Yiddish in one place.
One of the delights of the night was seeing the humility of two of the most important men in the room, Rabbi Yehoshua and Beit Yitzchak President Anatoliy Iskhakov. Rabbi Yehoshua was all smiles as he played translator for “Mr. President,” who sheepishly acknowledged as a professional builder that it took him two years to complete the construction of the mikvah, a job he thought would take two weeks.
Rabbi Cohen, as befits his role as the head of a kollel, laid down the responsibility that comes with the gifts and opportunities that have arrived in Norcross. He charged the members of Beit Yitzchak to embrace Torah observance and Torah study and to reach out to others around them to bring them to the joy of Torah life.
“Anything else is gradual death,” he said, “especially in the United States.”
He argued that, with all due respect to the efforts of Mikvah USA to bring the community a mikvah and of the community itself to install its new shul, which will only grow more beautiful when the handcrafted wooden ark is shipped in several months from now, the kollel was the most important dedication of the night because it is the key to Torah study.
As Rabbi Phuzayloff soon added: “When it comes to Torah study, it’s never too late, it’s never too little, and it’s also never enough.”
Our Bukharian brothers and sisters are taking their rightful place as part of the larger Jewish Atlanta community, and we all should be richer for embracing them.