TASHKENT, Uzbekistan – More than 100 members of the World Congress of Bukharan Jews, headed by diamond magnate Lev Leviev, toured Tashkent and other cities as part of a goodwill mission to Uzbekistan. Met at the airport by Israeli Ambassador Avi Miel and representatives of the local Bukharan community, many of the trip's participants had never set foot in the birthplace of their ancestors.

For Leviev, an Uzbekistan native who now lives in London, the tour was the first time practically his entire family visited the country together.

"My children should know the burial places of their ancestors, the city where their parents and grandparents were born," commented Leviev, who also serves as president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Former Soviet Union.

The delegation's members represented several nationalities. They joined hundreds of other Bukharan Jews back in February for the congress' eighth annual gathering in Jerusalem, where they discussed the state of Bukharan Jews worldwide and initiatives aimed at encouraging Bukharan genealogical research.

"Lev Leviev's family is not only his children and grandchildren, but also the World Congress of Bukharan Jews, which he founded in 2000," stated Ben Binyaminov, vice-president of the congress. "It is difficult to imagine how the new history of our people would have developed if Lev Leviev had not appeared on the horizon."

"This is not my first time in Uzbekistan," commented Amnon Cohen, a deputy in Israel's parliament. "But amongst the guests, there are many who have never been in the territory of their ancestors. They nervously stepped onto this land. They include successful businessmen and entrepreneurs who live in Israel. And now I can tell them where I lived and studied until [moving to Israel]."

Philanthropist Lev Leviev addresses the eighth annual World Congress of Bukharan Jews in Jerusalem.
Philanthropist Lev Leviev addresses the eighth annual World Congress of Bukharan Jews in Jerusalem.
The visitors stayed Tashkent's Inter-Continental Hotel, reputed to be the country's most prestigious inn.

"I didn't think that there would be such a luxurious hotel in Uzbekistan," said Chai Davidov. "I recently visited Uzbekistan and am now finally visiting with my wife, who was just a girl was the Soviet Union fell."

On April 5, the Tashkent State Opera and Ballet Theater hosted a concert for the local community where Leviev, Miel, Cohen and Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi David Gurevich addressed attendees.

After Tashkent, the delegation stopped in Bukhara and Samarkand.

"Uzbekistan was a place where Bukharan Jews lived for 2,000 years," said Leviev. "May our predecessors remember this enchanted and hospitable region."