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History, Traditions, and Culture of Jews of Kazakhstan

This year’s first edition of the popular radio program “Different Nations Under One Heaven,” which is broadcast on Auto Radio, was devoted to the Jews and their relationship with Kazakhstan.

The guest speaker on the program was Rabbi Elchonon Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Almaty and the Chief Rabbi’s of Kazakhstan’s deputy.



To listen, press play.

This year’s first edition of the popular radio program “Different Nations Under One Heaven,” which is broadcast on Auto Radio, was devoted to the Jews and their relationship with Kazakhstan.

The guest speaker on the program was Rabbi Elchonon Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Almaty and the Chief Rabbi’s of Kazakhstan’s deputy.

The show, “Different Nations Under One Heaven,” which is broadcast by Auto Radio, is extremely popular among listeners. The program discusses the traditions and lifestyles of no less than 130 ethnic groups and cultures living in Kazakhstan.

Eight Generations in Jerusalem

Rabbi Cohen begins the broadcast by introducing himself as one of 17 children in his family and the eighth generation of his family to live in Jerusalem. His father is the Rabbi of the Chabad community in Beitar. After a musical interlude, he gives a brief description of the history of the Jews of Kazakhstan.

The Cantonists

The first Jewish community in Kazakhstan was established about 120 years ago, when a group of Cantonists – Jewish children who were forcibly recruited into the Tsarist army for a 25-year tour of duty – asked to remain in the area once their period of service had ended. Over the years, many Jews from other countries also settled in Kazakhstan. Many of them were compelled to live there, such as Jews from Iran.

Unwilling to Leave

Due to the warm welcome that they received from their fellow Jews in the area, many of these Jews did not want to return to their previous communities even when they were able to do so, preferring to stay in the country that had sheltered them during hard times.

Warning: Yom Kippur is On Its Way!

At this point, Rabbi Cohen starts speaking about the new Jewish year and the significance of the High Holy Days, which culminate in Yom Kippur. Rabbi Cohen briefly describes the day and explains its main commandments, emphasizing the belief and faith of the Jewish people that G-d forgives us for our transgressions and will inscribe everyone for a good and sweet New Year.

Avinu Malkeinu” and “Hupp Cossack”

Throughout the program, various songs are heard. As Rabbi Cohen speaks, the tune of Avinu Malkeinu, attributed to the Alter Rebbe, founder of the Chabad movement, is played quietly in the background. From time to time, other Chabad melodies are heard, such as Avraham Fried’s rendition of “Hupp Cossack.”

Jewish Cuisine

As the show is 45 minutes long, Rabbi Cohen tries very hard to fill the time with as much practical content as possible. Therefore, when it comes to the part of the show where he is expected to discuss Jewish cuisine, instead of reading recipes he speaks about the laws of Kashrus. “Even meat that has been slaughtered according to Jewish law cannot be eaten if it’s mixed with milk,” he explains. He then asks the citizens of Kazakhstan to only offer their Jewish guests food from the kosher restaurant in Almaty. “The food that is served there tastes so good,” said Rabbi Cohen. “But the most important thing is that our food is kosher.”

A Revolution

“Jewish life in Kazakhstan underwent a significant revolution about 14 years ago, when my brother Rabbi Yeshayah Cohen became the country’s Chief Rabbi. The present government is very friendly to everyone and it helps the Jews as much as any other citizens. This is after seventy years of a Communist government that looked upon religion unfavorably and prohibited all religious practices, including prayer, Torah study, and mitzvah observance," concluded Rabbi Cohen.

7 Tishrey 5769 (06/10/2008)
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Featured photo
The president of Kazakhstan presents the head shliach with a document signed by the government (in 2000) denouncing the persecution of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok.
The president of Kazakhstan presents the head shliach with a document signed by the government (in 2000) denouncing the persecution of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok.
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