General Information on Jewish Organizations of Kazakshan
The current Jewish population is difficult to measure exactly; according to the Jewish organizations’ own data, there are over 50,000 Jews living in Kazakhstan (11,000 of those in Almaty). Most of the Kazakh Jews live in the larger cities where 13 community centers have been opened. The first legal Jewish organizations were established in Kazakhstan in 1989. The regional center of the USSR Va’ad was formed in 1990, going on to play a significant part in the creation of the republic’s Jewish community in the early 1990s.
Initially the part of the front organization was played by the Association of Jewish National Organizations of Kazakhstan, Mitzva (founded in 1992, president Alexander Baron). In 1996 the Association supported the arrival of the Jewish charity organization Chesed, working with the aid of the JDC. In a state whose centers of population are far away from each other, the program Chesed on Wheels is especially important, involving lonely Jews and small groups into Jewish life. The first Jewish community center in Kazakhstan, JCC Rimon, was founded in 1998. Currently Cheseds and JCCs work with 20,000 Jews in over 160 settlements in Kazakhstan.
On January 29, 2010, a conference of the leaders of Kazakhstan’s Jewish organizations took place in Almaty, followed on January 30-31 by a seminar of Kazakhstan’s Chesed directors. The Jewish Congress of Kazakhstan (president Alexander Mashkevich, who is also president of the EAJC, spiritual leader – Chief Rabbi of Kazakhstan Yeshayah Cohen) was established in 1999.
Today the Congress collaborates with 15 Jewish cultural unions, 13 charitable Chesed organizations, and 12 Jewish community centers. In 2002, the JCK became one of the founders of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress. Celebrations in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Jewish Congress of Kazakhstan were held in Almaty in the final week of January 2010.
The followers of the FJCR CIS, united into Association of Jewish Communities of Kazakhstan and comprising 27 communities, are led by Galina Roytburg; their spiritual leader is Rabbi Menachem-Mendel Gershovich. There are also offices of the Sochnut (head Alexandra Briskin) and the JDC, as well as a Macabi sport organization (director general Ilya Puro). The Kazakh Jewish Youth Council was established in 2006 (chairman since December 2008 Roman Kozeretsky).
Three Jewish schools are functioning in Kazakhstan on Or Avner Foundation’s funding. Another 11 are supported by local communities. Summer camps are organized for children and teenagers with the aid of the Sochnut and the Or Avner Foundation.
The leading cultural organization is the State Jewish Library (director Galina Korobkina) with branches in 16 cities, established in 1997, functioning with the support of the Mitzva Association. Its collection contains over 12,000 books. 18 Jewish cultural centers function in the state; regular Jewish book festivals are held. The Jewish Congress of Kazakhstan and the Library have been holding an annual Jewish book festival since 1999. In 2007 it was dedicated to the Library’s tenth anniversary. A travelling community book festival is held for the smaller communities. Youth clubs are working successfully; there are art centers for children, musical and literary clubs, and Hebrew and Yiddish study groups in Karaganda, Astana, and Ust-Kamenogorsk. In January 2010, an educational project which includes remote learning alongside full-time seminars was launched, called Shoresh (“root”), coordinated by Alexander Abramov.
The American Joint Distribution Committee has been supporting a program in Almaty, called Volunteer, since 2008. The program supports elderly community members, its participants are students from the U.S. and Kazakhstan.
The annual Central Asian festival of Jewish children and youth art, Freilehe Kinder (“Happy children”, director Irina Kozhanovskaya), has been taking place in Karaganda since 2005, organized by the Mitzva Association with the support of the American Joint Distribution Center.
There are 4 Jewish newspapers and a magazine in Kazakhstan. The Shalom newspaper and the Kazakhstan Jewish Community Bulletin, Davar, are the most popular ones.
There are approximately 10 functioning synagogues in the state (in Aktobe, Almaty, Astana, Karaganda, Kyzylorda, Kostanay, Pavlodar, Shymkent, and other cities), most of them built or renovated with the support of the JCK and the EAJC. Two new ones were opened in July 2009 in Ust-Kamenogorsk and Kostanay. The construction of the latter was directly supported by the EAJC president, and at its opening ceremony there were Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger, Sefardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Amar, and Israeli Minister of Religious Services Yakov Margi.
The Euro-Asian Rabbinical Council was established at a conference in Almaty in 2002, with Chief Rabbi of Kazakhstan Yeshayah Cohen presiding over it.
Anti-Semitism is professed in Kazakhstan by adherents of radical Islamism. An anti-Israeli rally took place in Almaty next to the premises of the Sochnut on January 16, 2009. Several dozen people participated, holding up posters with slogans condemning “the Israeli aggression against the peaceful nation of Palestine”.
The Jewish community takes active part in the inter-confessional dialogue supported by the state President N. Nazarbayev. This policy aims to normalize the relations between traditional confessions. Three Conventions of world and traditional national religions took place in Astana between 2003 and 2009. Members of the EAJC and Chief Rabbis of Israel Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar took active part in the conventions. As part of the Third Convention, Israeli President S. Peres, who was visiting the state at the time, attended the Beyt Rachel synagogue whose construction was funded by EAJC President A. Mashkevich, and delivered a speech together with Mr. Mashkevich before the Jewish community and the media.
On January 18, 2010, Kirill Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia met with Alexander Mashkevich during his visit to Kazakhstan.
The Mitzva Association and the Cheseds of Kazakhstan have initiated an annual (since 2005) state drawing contest for children, “We Are For Tolerance”, a literary contest “Tolerance – Lessons in History”, and a conference of the same name.
Diplomatic relations with Israel were established in 1992 (ambassador since 2008 Israel Mey-Ami, previously in the same position in 1996-2002). President Nazarbayev has paid official visits to Israel in 1995 and 2000.
There is a group of inter-parliamentary friendship between Kazakhstan and Israel (chairperson Knesset member Faina Kirschenbaum). Bilateral trade turnover reached over $1 billion in the mid-2000s. Israeli Cinema Days have been taking place in Almaty annually since 2005. There were festivities in Almaty and Astana in May 2008 in honor of the 60th anniversary of the state of Israel. EAJC President Alexander Mashkevich took an active part in the celebrations in Astana.
President of Israel S. Peres paid an official visit to Kazakhstan between June 29 and July 2, 2009. During this visit, treaties were signed on visa waivers for holders of diplomatic and service passports, and on space development and utilization for peaceful purposes.
Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman visited Astana in October 2009 and July 2010. During his fall 2009 visit to Kazakhstan, Mr. Lieberman held several business meetings with Alexander Mashkevich. The EAJC leader organized a meeting between the Israeli minister and the Jewish community of Kazakhstan, as well as a grand reception in his honor.
Deliberations are currently being held between Israel and Kazakhstan on the subject of creating a “Kazakhstan-Israeli foundation of agrarian research”. The goal of the foundation is cooperation in the fields of selection, gene pool exchange, and training agro-industrial complex staff.
In 2008, I. Grinberg together with the State Archive of Kazakhstan published the book Evacuation to Kazakhstan. From the history of evacuation of the population of USSR Western regions to Kazakhstan in 1941-1942, and an eponymous exhibition was held in Almaty in May of the same year. On October 30, 2008, the international academic conference “Evacuation: restoring a forgotten past” was organized in Almaty with the support of the Mitzvah Association. The conference papers were published in the end of 2009 in a collection entitled Evacuation: Restoring the Past. At the same time, Jews in Alma-Ata by I. Grinberg was published for the second time. The Association of Jewish national organizations of Kazakhstan Mitzvah, the State Archive of Kazakhstan, and the President’s Archive of Kazakhstan organized a travelling exhibition called “Restoring the past”, which was dedicated to the evacuation of people and enterprises to Kazakhstan during WWII and visited several cities in Kazakhstan over 2009-2010.