As unrest and chaos unfolds in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan amid protests and a reported attempt to overthrow the government, the country’s Jewish community is staying behind closed doors and waiting out the unrest.

One Jewish resident, 21-year-old Levan Kogeashvili of Ashdod, Israel, was killed on Friday, just before Shabbat, during the violence in Almaty, the nation’s business and cultural hub. “He’s now with the chevra kadisha [Jewish burial society],” said Rabbi Yeshaya Cohen, chief rabbi of Kazakhstan and director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Kazakhstan. “He had no part in the violence; they shot at his car,” Cohen told Chabad.org, adding that the community is awaiting permission for an aircraft to land in Almaty and bring the body back to Israel for burial. “We are broken and mourning.”

“It’s dangerous to go out on the streets—people are being shot at without warning. There are many people dead and wounded,” the rabbi continued. Jewish residents in communities served by 11 Chabad emissary families across Kazakhstan are “unharmed and doing well, thank G‑d.”

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Cohen said that Chabad continues to operate and serve the communities with “real mesirut nefesh”—“self-sacrifice”—amid the difficult conditions. “We are here together with the community; we will do everything for the community. We are not leaving,” he said emphatically.

Rabbi Yeshaya Cohen
Rabbi Yeshaya Cohen

CNN reported on Sunday morning that at least 164 people have been killed and 5,000 detained during the unrest of the past week. Cohen was able to speak by phone from Almaty during a brief window of Internet access early Sunday morning. The Internet has mostly been down in recent days, and phone service has often been spotty. Members of the Jewish community aren’t leaving their homes, the rabbi said, unless it’s an emergency. Those associated with the chevra kadisha, which include community members and Chabad emissaries, ventured out once on Friday to bury one local Jew, and did the same for a second Jew on Sunday afternoon. Neither of these deaths were connected with the violence, reported Cohen.

“We never saw this happening,” said the Israeli-born rabbi, who has been living in Kazakhstan since 1994. He said the Kazakhstani people are a peaceful nation, and he prays that the peace will soon be restored.

Resource-rich Kazakhstan is the largest country in Central Asia. (Map: Chabad Locator/Google)
Resource-rich Kazakhstan is the largest country in Central Asia. (Map: Chabad Locator/Google)

The community is certain that the merit of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson—the father of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—will stand them in good stead, said the rabbi. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was arrested by the Communists in 1939, and after nearly a year of interrogations and imprisonment, was exiled to a remote village in Kazakhstan. He passed away in 1944 in Almaty (then Alma-Ata), where he is buried. His resting place has become a revered site of pilgrimage and prayer for the local community and visitors from around the world, especially during hard times.

Levan Kogeashvili of Ashdod, Israel, was killed in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan on Jan. 7.
Levan Kogeashvili of Ashdod, Israel, was killed in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan on Jan. 7.

“We pray for the stability of the nation and a stable government,” said Cohen, quoting the Mishnah’s enjoinment: “Pray for the peace of the government; for were it not for the fear of its authority, a man would swallow his neighbor alive.” Echoing the words of King Solomon, he said that “the hearts of the kings and ministers are in G‑d’s hands.”

“The situation is difficult,” attested Cohen. “Everyone is praying that it ends. We thank the worldwide Jewish community for their concern and prayers.”