Bukharian Jews have come a long way. The social, economic and cultural distance traversed in the thirty years since the fall of the Iron Curtain very much reflects the geographical distance travelled from Central Asia to the United States of America. With Hashem’s Kindness, the community continues to grow. Yet with growth comes the increasing necessity to sustain, support and maintain. Today, the Bukharian community has reached a very important threshold in its life on American soil. It stands at the crossroads between political relevancy and political stagnation. This choice has never been more important than the present: will Bukharian Jewry make the necessary leap towards its relationship with the political apparatus? The communities growing numbers give it options like never before, but they also underline the growing need for connectivity to the mainstream. Large communities around the country work in tandem with local, state and federal government to realize their needs. The Bukharian community’s first step in reaching this goal is with organizations like the ABA, or the Alliance of Bukharian Americans. The following interview addresses political opportunities and goals awaiting an organized Bukharian community through the eyes of Pesach Osina of the ABA.
BJL: Pesach, please tell our readers a little about yourself. What is your background in politics? What did you do before joining the ABA? How have your past experiences in politics affected your work with the ABA?
PO: I have been involved in community work since 2002. At the time I began working with the community, Met Council had developed a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team), which worked in conjunction with numerous first responder agencies in New York City. After being elected team chief for the Queens Community Board 14 CERT team, my role became more of a liaison between city agencies and local organizations. This is how I got my feet wet in the local politics. My first role working in a governmental capacity started in 2009. At the time, I began working on Michael Bloomberg’s campaign for Mayor, and then continued as a staff member for both State Assembly and New York City Council until finally becoming Queens Borough Director for NYC Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. This gave me extensive experience in the world of politics and what I have learned continues to influence how the ABA evaluates its position and options.
BJL: What have you learned since you first started with the ABA about our local and federal politics?
PO: The ABA focuses on unifying the community, and while it may take a while to get all community members aboard we must maintain a constant focus. The benefits of staying focused on the interests that unify the community are very great. Each level of government really controls different aspects of our lives on a local level. It is therefore very important that as a community, we can formulate a unified voice and message for the politicians to hear. Accordingly, I think the main eternal struggle we all have is not to look at the larger worldwide picture, but rather measure how our choices as an organization will impact the community’s quality of life. This is really the key in staying abreast of wider and more distant issues. The community has much to work on at the personal level before it moves on to broader issues.
BJL: How has the experience strengthened your resolve to accomplish what you set out to do?
PO: This really ties into what I mentioned above. It’s not always about the long-game in politics. One of the things which I have been taught is to focus on small realistic goals and to maintain a steady focus. The aggregate of many smaller goals plays out in very significant way, even when compared to goals which initially would seem to be more important. In actuality, I would say that too much time is spent on focusing on projects that will not become a reality or will not have a real or lasting impact on the community. If we continue to constantly push for important issues that do affect a wide range of issues, we can and will achieve quality results.
BJL: what can our community improve on to be more noticed by politicians? How important is voting, really?
PO: Over the past year, the Bukharian community has been gaining notice in eyes of elected officials. Politicians are starting to recognize the potential impact of the Bukharian voting bloc. For example, last November there was a local election for Francisco Moya who was running for City Council. Through the work of local community leaders who wrote letters of support, and by pointing out local Bukharians within his district, Mr. Moya was able to be victorious. This is actually a great advantage. I cannot properly stress how much voter turnout draws in proper funding for our local community organizations. This money will be allocated for simple things like fixing our streets or getting plowed in a timely fashion on a snow day. It will also be available in response to advocacy regarding all items which are important to our community.
On March 13th, the ABA will be joining TeachNYS’s mission on a community trip to Albany. Organized by the OU, we will be going in coach buses to and from Albany and spend a large part of the day advocating together. We want to show our elected leaders just how strong the Bukharian voice is and in this way secure more funding and grants to move things forward.
BJL: Since working with ABA what one accomplishment would you list?
PO: The one thing that comes to mind is the recent inception of the ABA’s Resource hotline. Most of you have not heard about it yet, as it just launched last week. I like to think of this as the 311 of the Bukharian community, should you have a non-emergency and require a city agency’s help. For example, if a street-light is out or if streets need repair, you call 311 to connect you with the appropriate city agency. We want to think of the ABA resource hotline as a way to connect community members in need with the appropriate Chesed organizations, elected officials, or government agencies. For example, should a community member need insurance guidance, cancer support, food for their table, housing resources, mental health advocacy and even school guidance, we will be able to connect them with the appropriate organization all while holding their hand and guiding them through the process.
BJL: Do you have closing message or comment for our readers?
PO: I would just like to emphasize how important it is for community members to get involved, whether its attending Community Board meetings, NYPD council meetings, or just voicing your opinion to local elected officials. Elected officials look at community members as their partners, both in voting for them and giving them an update on both the good and bad happenings in the community. As such, it is imperative that when they ask for our vote we go out and not only place our vote but also bring our neighbors to the poll site. Elected officials know which blocks are most active and will do what’s necessary to keep their constituents happy with a thriving partnership.
By Adam Suionov
Interviewing the Alliance of Bukharian Americans (ABA): Pesach Osina Shares the ABA’s Developments and Objectives
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