Tajikistan, S.F. share ideas to battle hate

Tajikistan is the latest country to take part in an exchange with San Francisco to open dialogue and share expertise.

Under the Bay Area Jewish Council for Rescue and Renewal’s “Climate of Trust” program, a delegation from Tajikistan came to San Francisco in April. In addition, a few law enforcement officials and a district attorney accompanied Pnina Levermore, director of the Bay Area Council, to Tajikistan last month.

The program, which started several years ago, brings together human rights activists, Jewish activists, members of the police department, and government officials from both the former Soviet Union and San Francisco to share expertise in dealing with hate crimes.

There are fewer than 1,000 Jews living in the predominantly Muslim Tajikistan, with most of them in the capital city of Dushanbe.

The aim was promoting dialogue among Tajikistan’s many different ethnic and religious communities, which include Uzbeks, Armenians, Jews, Protestants, Orthodox, Catholics and Bahai.

One of the outcomes of this meeting was that “they’re going to work on a textbook which describes the backgrounds and cultures of different groups,” said Levermore.

That doesn’t mean it all went smoothly. A particularly heated exchange occurred when a representative of the Bahai community accused the local police of not responding appropriately to harassment of members of their community, Levermore said.

In response, a policeman said people of the Bahai faith were traitors to their religion. A rabbi intervened to explain how both groups need to explain their concerns without attacking each other.

While in Tajikistan, the San Francisco delegation met with local Jewish leadership to help resolve a dispute about the synagogue, the only one left in the country.

The synagogue is located in a downtown area that is about to be razed to build a new city center. Working together with the National Council for Soviet Jewry as well as Ambassador Richard Hoagland, the Bay Area Council was able to help the Jewish leadership come up with a solution that would leave the current synagogue standing until enough funds are collected to build a new one near the center of town.

“That’s where the discussion stands right now, and it seems as if it’s heading toward an amicable resolution,” said Levermore.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."