By Gabriel Rom
The Silk Road city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan is more than 6,000 miles from Rego Park. But for Manashe Khaimov, who spent the first 14 years of his life in the ancient metropolis before moving to New York, the two places are closely connected.
Now a project coordinator for the Bukharian Teen Lounge in Rego Park, Khaimov dedicates much of his life to providing children with the support system he lacked when he first came to his adopted country.
In Uzbekistan, Khaimov’s parents were closely involved with the local Jewish community and that activist spirit stuck with him. The Uzbeki Bukharian community has since all but disappeared as its members fled state-sanctioned repression and relocated over the past few decades to central Queens.
“How can I explain life there…” Khaimov asked himself, pausing.
“My parents were very involved in their community and I think that’s where my concern comes from,” he said.
In America, Khaimov found life dizzying. When he approached his parents for college and career advice, he confronted how high the cultural barrier was.
“There was no organized support system. I had to figure it out myself. I worked my way out of it.”
Nevertheless, Khaimov thrived, earning a degree from Baruch College and becoming a student leader. But he worried over what he saw as an unmet need within the Queens’ Bukharian community: Young adults had little community support
That’s how he found the Teen Lounge, a program run under the umbrella of the Jewish Child Care Association.
“I didn’t have access to programs like this when I was younger — people I could speak to in Russian and English. People who could guide me.” he added.
From tutoring, to college visits, to career fairs, Khaimov helps young men and women navigate the dual worlds of Bukharia and America.
Young people, Khaimov said, are being raised with a number of identities in his neighborhood: They are American, Jewish, Russian and Bukharian. Through career forums, college visits and educational advice, he helps integrate children into wider American culture without their losing sight of their heritage.
“I stay at the Lounge because I really feel the impact of what this group does, I see how the kids are affected. I think that’s what keeps me going.”
Perhaps most importantly, Khaimov says his work as a community organizer allows him to fully combine tradition and faith
“For me, Judaism must be about action, ” he said.