Shalom Life | August 25, 2014

Shalom, Kazakhstan: A Jewish Culture Guide

Kazakhstan's small Jewish community of 3,300 has more than 20 Jewish organizations and 14 Jewish day schools.

By: Ashley Baylen

Published: August 13th, 2014 in Culture » Society » News

And we’re off, to anywhere and everywhere, as we say ‘Shalom’ every week to different global travel destination. World cities, provincial towns, and even the most unassuming of suburbs are infused with Jewish history and culture, some of which is waiting to be discovered.

For the pious follower, the curious traveler, or the intrepid adventurer, we’ll unearth the best of what to do and where to go. Be it an emerging subculture, a historical landmark, or simply a triumph of art in any form, Jewish experiences are found around the world; and likely as well in your backyard.

It may be in the destination, the journey, or the company, but there is much to uncover and celebrate near and far, so hurry up and get going.

Shalom, Kazakhstan


The Jewish history of Kazakhstan may only date back to the 17th century, but the nation boasts a surprisingly high number of organizations, cultural hubs, and activities for a community of only 3,300.

The majority of Jews currently residing in Kazakhstan are Ashkenazi, having settled after arriving from Russian army conscripts on the 17th century. At the time, no synagogues were built within the small community, so all services were held in private homes.

Kazakhstan’s Jewish population did not increase until Russia was under communism. Stalin exiled thousands of Jews from the Pale of Settlement to neighboring Kazakhstan. The Jewish Virtual Library makes note that Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, father of the late Lubavitcher rabbi, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was one of the Jews exiled during this period.

During the Second World War, an additional 8,500 Jews fled the Holocaust and settled in Kazakhstan.

It is estimated that Kazakhstan is currently home to 3,300 Jewish people. Due to their heritage, they are mostly Russian speaking and identify with Russian culture. Of those 3,300, approximately 2,000 are Bukharian Jews from Uzbekistan and Tat (Caucasian Mountain Jews).

Kazakhstan’s main Jewish centre is Almaty, with others spread throughout the nation in Karaganda, Chimkent, Astana, Semiplatinsk, Kokchetav, Dzhambul, Uralsk, Aktyubinsk, Petropavlovsk, and more.

Kazakhstan has more than 20 Jewish organizations. The Mitzvah Association, Chabad Lubavitch, the Joint Distribution Committee and Jewish Agency for Israel are the most prominent.

In December 1999, the Jewish communities of Kazakhstan were united through the founding of the All-Kazakhstan Jewish Congress.

The first synagogue in the country was opened by Chabad Lubavitch in 2001. A community centre housing Jewish programs (Jewish day school, distribution of food packages, elderly care and summer camp) was also established.

Synagogue Rachel Khabad-Ljubavitch house, Pavlodar, Kazakhstan‬

As The Jewish Virtual Library explains, the Jewish Agency for Israel sponsors a moadon (youth center) in several cities, the largest in Almaty.

“It is a popular hangout for Jewish teens and also teaches Jewish culture, history and Hebrew. In July 2001, more than 120 children attended the Jewish Agency's summer seminar in the hills outside Almaty, a 10-day lesson on Israel and Judaism. The campers, ages 12-17, came from all over Kazakhstan and neighboring Kyrgyzstan. While their knowledge of Jewish topics ranged widely, they all shared a Jewish identity, singing Hebrew songs, baking challot and drawing pictures of Jerusalem. Several campers also attend boarding schools in Israel,” writes the Jewish Virtual Library.

Find out more about the Jewish community of Kazakhstan on the next page!

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