Lily Iskhakova

Enchanting Uzbekistan: An evening at the Museum of Islamic Art

A culinary display at the Tribute to Uzbekistan evening at the Museum of Islamic Art
A culinary display at the Tribute to Uzbekistan evening at the Museum of Islamic Art
Traditional Uzbeki Dancer

Uzbekistan, a land of ancient history and diverse traditions, took center stage at the Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem with a captivating exhibition that celebrated the country’s cultural treasures. This immersive experience transported visitors on a visual and sensory voyage through Uzbekistan’s artistic heritage. It was a night to remember for all who attended.

The exhibition featured a plethora of enchanting elements. It  began with a mesmerizing performance by a traditional Uzbek drum player who skillfully played the “doira”, a tambourine-like instrument central to Uzbek music. The rhythmic beats of the doira reverberated through the halls, setting the tone for an evening steeped in tradition and artistry.

Doira player and dancer during their performance

A highlight of the evening was a stunning dance performance by an Uzbeki dancer, who  donned a variety of exquisite costumes. Each costume and dance told a unique story, reflecting the diverse cultural influences that have shaped Uzbekistan over the centuries. The dancer’s movements were fluid and expressive, mirroring the vibrant history of Uzbek dance and its fusion of Persian, Turkic, and Indian influences.

Adding an extra layer of depth to the exhibition was a tapestry workshop led by Hamida Inoyatova, a renowned fashion designer and traditional embroidery craftswoman from Uzbekistan. Her workshop allowed visitors to witness the intricate art of Uzbek embroidery up close. Hamida  demonstrated how traditional designs were made by first stamping patterns onto colorful fabrics with hand-carved oak stamps. Then using the pattern as a guide, intricate designs were embroidered with shiny gold thread, creating stunning patterns and designs that have been passed down through generations. She shared her insights into the rich history of Uzbek embroidery, explaining how each stitch carries a piece of the country’s cultural narrative.

Embroidery tutorial

The Ambassador of Uzbekistan, H.E. Feruza Makhmudova, a distinguished guest at the event, warmly welcomed attendees and shared insights into the rich heritage of her homeland. She invited everyone to visit Uzbekistan. The hospitality of her homeland does not require a visa and is only a 4-hour flight from Ben Gurion Airport to either Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, or Samarkand, the pearl of the region.

Later at the exhibition, visitors had the opportunity to sample the flavors of Uzbekistan through a cooking demonstration and tasting of Osh-Plov, a beloved Uzbeki dish. Osh-Plov, a hearty and aromatic rice pilaf, is a staple of Uzbek cuisine. The chef remarked that every Uzbeki person is born and dies with Plov. When a child is born the parents feed friends, family, and neighbors with Plov cooked in a giant cauldron. The same is done when someone passes away. The aroma of spices filled the air as guests watched while the skilled chef demonstrated a step-by step process of preparing this mouthwatering dish. Tasting it was an experience in itself, as the flavors of caramelized onion, spices, and tender chunks of meat delighted the taste buds of all who tried it.

The Ambassador of Uzbekistan, H.E. Feruza Makhmudova (left)

Uzbekistan’s cultural significance doesn’t stop at its cuisine and traditions; it’s also home to a unique Jewish community. The Bukharian Jews, with their roots in Uzbekistan, established ancient synagogues and cemeteries in cities like Samarkand and Bukhara. Mahalas – Jewish quarters in this Muslim country were home to tens of thousands of Bukharian Jews until a wave of emigration brought them to Israel in the 1990’s.  In Israel, a large community of Bukharian Jews has flourished, while preserving their heritage and traditions.

The evening’s grand finale was a true delight, featuring the esteemed Chef Israel Aharoni, a beloved son of the Israeli Bukharian community. With his mesmerizing storytelling, Chef Aharoni transported us on a thrilling journey through his adventures and explorations along the historic Silk Road. Through a vivid tapestry of words and captivating images collected from the very birthplace of pasta, Chef Aharoni masterfully connected the gastronomic dots, unveiling the shared heritage of dishes like Lomein in China, Lagman in Samarkand, Ramen in Japan, and all delectables wrapped in dough. Aharoni’s talk wove a narrative of how the food we savor has the remarkable power to bind us together across diverse cultures and vast continents. As he spoke, the audience hung on to his every word, not only relishing his tales but also savoring the profound culinary insights he so generously shared.

In the end, the Uzbekistan exhibition at the Museum of Islamic Art was more than an event; it was a bridge that connected people through shared cultural experiences. It showcased the rich traditions of Uzbekistan, celebrated the ties between the two nations, and reminded us all that food, music, and dance have the power to bring us closer together, transcending borders and uniting us in our shared humanity. It was a night to remember, leaving everyone with  renewed curiosity about the world and its multifaceted cultures.

About the Author
Dr. Lily Iskhakova is a neuroscientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, a member of Bukharian Jewish community, and a women's rights advocate.
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