"Not all Muslims are Arabs or like Arabs"

A New Shul in a Muslim Country

By Uri Dan


The story of the synagogue in Alma-Ata, capital of Kazakhstan, is also the story of Rabbi
Yeshaya Cohen, graduate of a Lubavitcher yeshiva in New York's Crown Heights. It is, as well, the story of a great Muslim country's sympathetic attitude toward Jews in general and the State of Israel in particular.

The Jerusalem-born Cohen, 41, had asked the Lubavitcher hassidim to send him somewhere he could build a synagogue with his own hands, from scratch. Last week in Alma-Ata he told me it was the place where Levy Yitzhak Schneerson, father of the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, is buried. Barely escaping death at the hands of the communists because of his Jewish belief, Levy Yitzhak was exiled by Stalin to Alma-Ata, where he died in 1944.

Before marrying his wife, Hannah, Cohen made her agree to accompany him to any place, however remote, where he would serve as a rabbi. The couple now have three children, and the synagogue is in constant use.

Consequently, Cohen was very excited last Friday (Feb 14, 2003), when a large delegation of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations arrived from all over the US bringing a Torah scroll for his synagogue. With especial pleasure the rabbi described the delegation's visit to Levy Yitzhak's grave:

"It was a real revolution. An honor guard of police accompanied us through snow-covered streets to the place where the man who was hounded by the Soviet secret police ended his life. And all in a Muslim country."

Kazakhstan President Narsultan Nazarbayev, who unrolled a red carpet for the Jewish visitors from the US, Israel and other countries, is attempting to strengthen the independence of his Central Asian country, five times larger than France and with a population of 15 million. Kazakhstan's natural resources oil, uranium, and other minerals make an economic-social revolution feasible.

To the meeting with the Jewish leaders the president brought not only representatives of other Muslim countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and Turkey, but also Muslim religious leaders. They sat with delegation members, including Rabbi Pinchas Goldsmidt from Moscow, and talked about coexistence between Muslims and Jews, religious differences notwithstanding.

Nazarbayev told his guests: "Fundamentalist Islam is not the real Islam of the Koran. Extremist Islam is political manipulation." Therefore terror must be answered with terror. "The Arabs do not form the majority in the Islamic world," he continued, "There are 300 million Muslims in Indonesia, and 150 million in India."



The writer is the Mideast correspondent of The New York Post, in which the full version ofthis article appeared on Feb. 20, 2003.

Submitted by: "David S.Devor" <devor@usa.net>



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