It was another day without lunch, so, back in our hotel room, Hilary and I ate two boiled eggs and some pastries that had survived the packed lunch provided by the hotel in Khiva (the fridge in our room had kept the food fresh). We then left to see some of Jewish Bukhara.
We walked south and then west through interesting parts of the old city (for most of the time we walked along unsealed roads past houses arranged around courtyards. The houses were usually behind blank walls pierced by a single doorway) before arriving at the entrance to the large but well-kept Jewish cemetery. Graves and tombs confirmed that the cemetery has existed for a very long time and that the occasional burial still takes place. One of the most striking monuments identifies all the Bukhara Jews who lost their lives in conflict during the second world war.
With the help of three local people we were directed to the entrance to one of the two surviving synagogues in Bukhara, the one furthest from the city centre (the synagogue was about a kilometre from our hotel, but along a narrow side street lacking a sign to indicate the right direction). When we arrived at the entrance the door was locked, but a young woman appeared from a nearby house on the other side of the street to let us in. She was Jewish, the daughter-in-law of the rabbi.
The synagogue is fascinating. Arranged like a house around a courtyard, there are two rooms for worship. There is also a kitchen. Tables and chairs in the courtyard provide opportunities for people to chat, eat or drink. Many of the walls are covered with photographs, letters and newspaper articles revealing aspects of the synagogue’s history and the history of the Bukhara Jews more generally. The woman said that about fifty Jewish families remain in Bukhara and all the families attending the synagogue identify themselves as Sephardi.
Walking back to the city centre through narrow residential streets, we had a problem with a dog that bit through Hilary’s trousers and left a graze and a bruise on her leg, but we stopped at the second synagogue where an elderly man showed us around. Although from the outside it looks over-zealously restored, the second synagogue, being close to the city centre, dates from long before the first synagogue, but internally has many similarities with the more distant one. Once again, rooms are arranged around a courtyard. There are two rooms for worship and facilities to prepare food. Two men played chess in one of the worship rooms.