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Cooper, now an anthropologist and cultural historian, did end up meeting many students originally from Russia – but they were not at all what she was expecting.

The pupils were Bukharan Jews – a population she, like many others, had never before had contact with and which had been cut off from other Jewish groups for more than 2,000 years while living in Central Asia.

“I went over there to find out what life was like for people living in Central Asia, to learn about the story of their history and culture that has such a long background with so much baggage and so many layers.” The Jewish population in Central Asia made up one of the oldest Jewish settlements outside of Palestine, dating back to the Babylonian exile of 586 B. E., and are considered to be one of the oldest ethno-religious groups of Central Asia.

Jews from such countries as Iraq, Iran, Syria and Morocco ended up in Central Asia as well, often after taking the Silk Road, and Jews who fled Spain during the Spanish Inquisition are also documented to have joined the Central Asian community.

One of the interesting aspects of the community is they’ve had many different, disparate experiences.

It’s led them to question what the Bukharan experience is.

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“When I met a lot of people who had family in Central Asia, they told me I had better go there quickly because everybody was leaving,” said Cooper, who has held research and teaching positions at Harvard University, University of Massachusetts, University of Michigan, and Boston University.Islamic customs are patrilineal so the child of a Muslim man is a Muslim.The Lebanese Jews are a Sephardi (particularly Mizrahi) community living mostly in and around Beirut. The community has been described as elderly and apprehensive.In pre-Biblical times, the region between Gaza and Anatolia (essentially modern day Lebanon, Israel, Palestinian Territories, Jordan and Syria) was a single cultural unit.Despite the lack of any central political authority, the region shared a common language family (Northwest Semitic languages, including Phoenician, Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic), religion and way of life.

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