In New York, a street was named after a Bukharian Jew from the former USSR
For nearly 50 years in Forest Hills, Queens, Gavriil Davydov was the unofficial mayor of the area’s Bukharan Jewish community. He was known as a peacemaker and the first person to turn to for help. Now, after all these years, he’s finally getting the attention he’s long deserved. JTA writes about this.
The owner of Gavriel Davidov Jewelry, located in the Diamond District on 47th Street in Manhattan, Davidov was one of the first members of the Bukharan community – mostly Russian-speaking Central Asians – to move to New York. Seeking to escape Soviet restrictions on Jewish religious life and expression, Davydov, his wife Zoya and their four daughters—Ninel, Susan, Stella and Zhanna—immigrated from Tajikistan to New York in 1976.
By the time of Davydov’s death in April 2020 at the age of 85, the number of Bukharan Jews in New York exceeded 50 thousand people. And many of them were grateful to Davydov for the strength of their community: during his life in the United States, he helped found dozens of yeshivas, synagogues and community centers in Forest Hills and surrounding areas.
Last month, Davydov’s dedication to the Bukharan community and his legacy of humility, leadership and integrity were recognized by New York City officials by naming the corner of 64th Road and 108th Street, located near the epicenter of Bukharian life in New York City, “Gabriel Davydov’s Corner.” .
“He was the patriarch of our family and a pillar of the community,” Gabriella Kaplan, one of Davydov’s nine grandchildren, said in a recent post. “Whenever I walked down the street with him, everyone was his best friend.” It was impossible to walk even two steps because everyone had to stop him to say hello. It’s so great to see how respected he is in the community and how everyone loves him.”
“He finally got the recognition he deserved,” said Kaplan, 28, who was one of 10 people to speak at the Oct. 22 opening ceremony.
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According to Manashe Khaimov, an associate professor at Queens College who specializes in the history of Bukharian Jewry and founder of the Sephardic Mizrahi American Initiative, Davidov’s recognition as a city is an important step in recognizing and celebrating Bukharian life in the United States.
“This leaves our mark on New York history,” he said.
“For the Bukharan youth and for the Bukharan people as a community, this is a great event,” he noted. “Living in Forest Hills, walking the streets of Forest Hills, having a street named after the Bukharan people is very important.”
For Davydov’s family, which includes 11 great-grandchildren, the ceremony was a long-awaited conclusion to his story. Davydov died just as COVID-19 was raging in New York, and last month’s ceremony, Kaplan said, was “a celebration of his life that we didn’t get to do as well as we should have after his death.” .
A well-known lawyer in Tajikistan, Davydov, arrived with his family in the United States via Vienna and Israel. The family settled in a two-room apartment in Forest Hills, where Davydov lived until the end of his days.
According to his daughter Susan Davydova-Hod, they were the tenth Bukharian family to settle in the area, where today thousands of Bukharian Jews live and dozens of synagogues operate.
Arriving in New York, Davydov, despite his education and comfortable income in Tajikistan, got a job as a taxi driver and worked in this capacity for three years in order to support his family and at the same time study English. According to a favorite story passed down within the family, Davydov picked up a man from Kennedy Airport and, in broken English, told the passenger about his trip to the United States and about his four girls at home. At the end of the day, he was cleaning the car and realized that the man had left his suitcase in the taxi.
“We opened it up and it was full of money,” Hod recalls. Her father insisted that he must return the suitcase.
Hod found a business card in the suitcase and they called the passenger.
“My father didn’t speak English very well, so I did the talking,” she explained. “The next morning, my father went to see him again and gave him the whole suitcase. Within a week we received four or five boxes of clothes because the man knew that the father had four daughters. He sent us the most fashionable outfits at that time.”
Hod said that kind of honesty characterized her father, who was 18 when he opened his jewelry business in 1980, and she also worked with him—an experience she said was “amazing.”
Hod remembers how her father helped others start jewelry businesses, sometimes acting as a guarantor for loans.
“People still owe him a lot of money,” she said. “But he never pursued it.” It’s not that my father was a millionaire, believe me. He had a heart of gold.”
Davydov quietly worked throughout his life to develop the Bukharian community, helping to create two Orthodox synagogues – the Bukharian Jewish Community Center and the Beth Gabriel Synagogue, as well as several yeshivas in the area.
“It started 35 Bukharan synagogues in New York City and brought together thousands of members,” said City Council member Lynn Shulman, who represents Forest Hills and the surrounding area and sponsored the legislation to rename the street. – As the leader of the Bukhara community, Gabriel always gave himself everything and never asked for anything in return. Davydov left an indelible mark on Forest Hills and our entire city.”
“He was the person to whom many representatives of the Bukhara community came. He was very quiet, not public and did not strive for name recognition. But he helped so many people new to the Bukharan community and Queens, whether it was financial need or family problems, said Assembly member David Weprin, who knew Davydov personally. – He was the person about whom people said, “Go to Gabriel Davydov. He will help you.”