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Bukharian McMansions


Kirk Semple of the New York Times has done the heavy lifting for us by researching and writing this article (online now, for Saturday) about very real tensions in our community. Now that it’s out there, let’s see what, if anything, comes of it. One positive development is that some in the Bukharian community seem sensitive to the antipathy their houses have created. Many non-Bukharian residents of Forest Hills were not so sure they were even aware, or cared, what their neighbors thought. Equally positive is gaining an understanding of how other people think. It’s a first step, perhaps, toward mutual understanding.

Questions of Size and Taste in Queens

Some salient excerpts from this elephant-in-the-room article:

The Bukharians contend that they are being misunderstood.

Indeed, what might seem on its surface like a parochial neighborhood quarrel over yards, fences and taste has revealed the complex civil society of a tight-knit immigrant community and the cultural tensions that have resulted from its rapid growth…

Critics of the new Bukharian architecture in Queens, many of whom are Jewish as well, have presented their complaints in private conversations with elected officials, at small civic meetings and on blogs. Some have taken the view that the Bukharian community is highly insular and that the Bukharians’ tendency to build different from the rest of the neighborhood reflects that…

Ms. Katz, who is chairwoman of the Council’s Land Use Committee, has been working with the City Planning Department on new zoning regulations that would limit the size of new houses in Cord Meyer and other architecturally sensitive areas and create what she calls “a more stable community.”….

“We like to utilize every single square inch of land, every inch of territory,” explained Rabbi Shlomo Nisanov, head of a Bukharian synagogue and community center in Kew Gardens Hills. “For some reason, people don’t appreciate it.”

The Bukharian tendency to pave over everything is practical, he continued. Bukharians preferred a terrace or patio to a lawn, which he called “useless land.” A yard required mowing — “a waste of time,” he said….

The most ostentatious Bukharian construction has given Rabbi Itzhak Yehoshua, the chief rabbi of the Bukharian Jews in the United States, some pause. He said he urged modesty among his congregation in order to avoid tensions in the community, but he has met resistance.

“I tell them all the time that our ancestors taught us about being humble,” he said during an interview in his small office in the Bukharian Congress building in Forest Hills. “They say, ‘Rabbi, this is our home for entertainment, it’s our fortress. Now we work’ — and they work very hard — ‘and this is our understanding of America.’ ”….

Worried about the widening divide between the Bukharian and non-Bukharian communities in central Queens, Cynthia Zalisky, executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council, a social services agency for immigrants, said she has been trying to soften the discussion about the Bukharian homes.

“It’s a very delicate situation,” she admitted. Property owners are entitled to their design decisions within the law, she said, but she is also trying to encourage the Bukharian immigrants to view themselves as “part of a whole, not just an entity unto themselves.”


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