Uzbekistan authorities are probing the murder of one of Tashkent's rabbis, but it is unclear whether they are considering anti-Semitism as motive in his death.
Avraham Yagudayev Hacohen, 33, died on Saturday night after being found unconscious on the side of the road and brought to the hospital. He had left his house for evening prayers and was discovered suffering from head wounds near the Bukharan Synagogue in the Old City.
Some in the capital city's Jewish community have suggested that the act was driven by anti-Semitism, as nothing of value was stolen from him, though his coat and the synagogue keys were missing.
But according to a Jewish Agency field worker in Tashkent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, "It seems that this will be [investigated as] a criminal act or a hit-and-run." He added that it wouldn't have been immediately apparent that Hacohen was Jewish, as he covered his kippa with a hat while outside, and that the poor neighborhood around the synagogue is not very safe.
An 18-year-old member of the Jewish community was also attacked in the same area two weeks ago and has been in the hospital ever since, according to the agency worker. It is also not clear what motivated that attack.
The agency official described the community as "concerned" but not afraid following the attacks, saying that the community has a history in Uzbekistan stretching back for centuries and that "I've never seen anti-Semitism on the government level."
He noted, though, that the attitudes of the "street" can be different and that the country borders on Afghanistan. "It's not so far. I can't say that there's no influence from the extreme elements there."
Some 83,000 Jews have left Uzbekistan for Israel since the fall of the Iron Curtain, with another 16,000 to 19,000 remaining, according to Jewish Agency figures.
Tashkent hosts an Ashkenazi synagogue operated by Chabad and a second Bukharan synagogue as well as the Old City house of prayer run by Hacohen. The Jewish population in that part of the capital has dwindled due to aliya and to relocation within the country, and many families - Hacohen's among them -relied on aid from international Jewish organizations. Congregating a minyan could be difficult, and Hacohen served as the ritual slaughter and bar mitzvah tutor.
The Jewish Agency worker knew Hacohen personally and recalled him conducting bar mitzvas - not only for 13-year-olds, but often for their parents as well.
"He really wanted to strengthen the small synagogue and to give it a new life, but it was very difficult because of the economic and political situation," he said.
Hacohen left behind a wife and four children, and a synagogue largely dependent on Hacohen's skills and services. The agency official said that he knew of no trained rabbi to take Hacohen's place, but added, "The Jewish people are strong. They will continue to go to synagogue and to go to Jewish organizations."