An Interview With Rabbi Nissan Shalomayev

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Of The Bukharian Jewish Congregation Of Hillcrest

From the outside, the Queens Jewish Community may seem uniform and simple. Yet it is filled with lively communities, each one with its own unique character and beautiful luster. The more you search, the more there is to discover about each group. The people who make up our communities are as varied as they are numerous, and present the aspiring anthropologist with a dream come true. Each community has its own story of settlement, growth and struggles. Like a small brushstroke in a colorful painting, each group contributes to the rich narrative of the lovely theme called Bukharian Jewry. It is therefore my pleasure to present you with an interview of Rabbi Nissan Shalomayev, of the Bukharian Jewish Congregation of Hillcrest.


Please introduce our readers to your community and shul. How long has it been servicing the community? 

NS: Our shul came together a little over four years ago. Even though we are in between the Jewish communities of Fresh Meadows, Jamaica Estates, and Kew Gardens Hills, the next closest synagogue is about 15-20 minutes away. Therefore, our local community members got together and organized a board to form a synagogue.

We didn’t have our own place at first. The Shul initially began in a basement of a local community member. That year, the High Holiday services were held in a tent in the backyard of Uzi Aranbayev. In fact, before we had our current permanent location, the shul members moved back and forth between the Abramov and Ashurov residences.

Since we started, we have Baruch Hashem grown in number, to the extent that seats are scarce during the High Holidays. The shul has a special youth minyan in the basement during the high holidays to accommodate demand.

Which schools did you attend? Did you grow up in the community you now serve? How did you move onto this position? 

NS: I was actually born in Uzbekistan. I came here with my family when I was 10 years old, attended local Yeshivot in Brooklyn, and graduated from Yeshiva Chaim Berlin. I also learned for many years in Yeshiva Shor Yoshuv in Far Rockaway. I currently learn under HaRav Aharon Walkin Shlit”a in Chazaq’s Kollel at Yeshiva Gedola BN of Queens located in congregation Od Yosef Chai.

My parents moved from Brooklyn to Hillcrest in 2003. The shul is today actually next door to my parents’ house. Our family was one of the first Bukharian families to move into the area; we had to walk quite a distance to Shul on Shabbat. As time went by, many families moved in and it was time to start much-needed local community synagogue. My father was one of the founding members and is on the shul board.

After I got married, I moved out to Kew Gardens Hills. However, when the shul started a little more than four years ago, I was very excited to help out in anyway I could. I volunteered to help with the youth and also lead High Holiday services for the youth. After the rabbi that was before me moved back to Israel, I was approached by the president Ruben Gurgov to take over the position.

Your story demonstrates the beautiful nature of the Jewish people, who work together to serve Hashem. Can you please tell our readers a little about your community members?

NS: Our community is a mixed crowd, but the majority consists of young families with kids. That’s also a census of the crowd currently moving in. The people in the community are on all different religious levels, with some who are just beginning to attend the synagogue and some are very observant. We strive to cater to all, and what’s truly special is that our community has a lot of unity and brotherhood. Many guests who visit our shul feel this sense of brotherhood and tell me how impressed they are by it.

The truth is that we are all in it together to make it happen. We have members who install air conditioners, construction workers, handymen, accountants, police officers, etc., who all volunteer their services and expertise for the benefit of the public. I have noticed that when people invest time and effort in their community, they develop a sincere connection with their fellow members.

How does your Shul cater to such a diverse crowd of members?

NS: There is a big thirst for knowledge in our Shul, so we try to provide for it as best we can. Every Shabbat afternoon there are Torah classes given by the rabbi in English and in Russian. Similarly, during Shavuot and Hoshana Rabbah, we invite both English and Russian speakers for a whole night of learning. Not many shuls do this, but we feel it is something our congregants really want.

I must say, though, that the real highlight of the community is its unified and truly inspiring women. They get together every Shabbat afternoon for tehillim, arrange bracha parties, and even host a monthly challah baking event. My wife makes a tremendous effort to form a personal bond with all the ladies during these events. They are very eager to grow spiritually, and I believe that this has an effect on their husbands as well. We have organized painting, bug checking, and other events for our women in the past, and we hope to set more such events in the near future.

Our other programs include a children’s program on Motzai Shabbat to accommodate families with young children. We also invite guest speakers once a month to speak on large array of topics. On Mondays and Wednesdays we host Chazaq’s J-wave program for public school kids.

This is all very impressive for such young shul. What else do you hope to bring to your community?

NS: Logistically speaking, we need to expand our physical space very soon, and hope to integrate a mikvah as well. In terms of community accomplishments, the goal of any rabbi is to raise and teach about religious observance in the community with love, understanding and acceptance. There are still too many families in area which unfortunately don’t have a regular affiliation with us. It is our goal to invite and bring everyone closer in the community. It will take time but we will get there with Hashem’s help.

Are there any messages you would like to give other young Talmidei chachamim about the experience of helping a community such as yours? 

NS: In the words of my Rebbi, Rabbi Aharon Walkin shlit’a: “Needless to say, it’s very, very hard, usually unappreciated and unrewarding, and at times outright painful and humbling. One needs to think long and hard if being a rabbi is what you want, and if it’s for you. I don’t want to discourage anyone from becoming a rav, but you need to be prepared and willing to deal with the life of being a rabbi.

The position requires selflessness, sacrifice, a strong sense of devotion, and commitment to the tzibur and their spiritual and physical needs. Rabbonut is about constant giving. Giving of your strength and of yourself unconditionally without receiving in return.

All your devotion and giving will elevate and strengthen you to be a better Jew and a better person an in turn, this will bring you to love all your students and congregants. The more you give of yourself selflessly to those in the community, the more you will love even those who oppose you. This will lead you to achieve and experience true Ahavat Yisrael.”

The Bukharian Jewish Congregation of Hillcrest is located at 81-04 166th Street. The shul is active every weekday, with the earliest minyan in town for shaharit, 6 a.m. -7 a.m. During the summer months there is mincha and arvit at 7:40 p.m. During the winter, Arvit is at 9 p.m. On Sunday morning, Shaharit is at 8 a.m. following a shiur on Halacha. Shabbat Shaharit is at 8 a.m. 

By Adam Suionov