Tag Archives: Uzbekistan

Jews of the Week: Shushandukht and Bahram V

Gold Coins Depicting Iranian Shah Bahram V, often referred to as Bahramgur – “Bahram the Hunter”

Shushandukht (c. 380-430 CE) was born in Persia, the daughter of the Resh Galuta (Exilarch), a title reserved for the chief rabbi and official leader of the Jews in the diaspora during this time period. Little is known of her early life. She went on to marry the Sasanian king Yazdegerd I, and gave him two sons, Shapur IV and Bahram V (c. 406-438 CE). Yazdegerd and Shapur were assassinated, triggering a brief civil war that ended with Bahram successfully taking the throne. Bahram V went on to reign for nearly two decades as Iran’s Shah. In that time, he held off the advancing Eastern Roman Empire and conquered Armenia. Later, a massive invasion by the feared Huns nearly destroyed his empire. However, he caught the Huns unaware in a surprise night attack, decimating their force, and bringing peace to the entire region. Bahram presided over a period of great Persian wealth. Coins with Bahram’s portrait have been found across Asia. Not surprisingly, Bahram V became one of the most legendary kings in Asian history, and is an important figure not just in Iran, but in Uzbekistan, Pakistan, India, and even in Islamic literature (despite the fact that the Muslims tried pretty hard to erase pre-Islamic Iranian history). Bahram V is the hero of many ancient Persian legends. One of these was translated into English under the title The Three Princes of Serendip – giving rise to the word “serendipity”. In the famous Persian epic Shahnameh, he is the king that slays two lions with his bare hands. Meanwhile, his mother Shushandukht used her position to assist the Jews of Iran (where the vast majority of the world’s Jews lived at the time). She established large and prosperous Jewish neighbourhoods in Esfahan, Susa, Hamadan, and Shushtar. During this period, the Jewish Exilarch sat on the Shah’s court. Many scholars believe that the ‘Tomb of Esther and Mordechai’ in modern-day Iran is actually the tomb of Shushandukht.

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Words of the Week

It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.
– Hippocrates

Tomb of Esther and Mordechai (or Shushandukht) in present-day Hamadan, Iran (Credit: Philippe Chavin)

Jew of the Week: Fania Nisanov

Babulya

Fania Nisanov, ת.נ.צ.ב.ה

Fania Nisanov, ת.נ.צ.ב.ה

Fania Nisanov (1924-2015) was born to an observant Bukharian-Jewish family in Kokand, Uzbekistan. Her father was the last in a long line of fabric dyers and merchants from the Emirate of Bukhara, the old Silk Road trading centre (and a UNESCO World Heritage site). One of eight surviving children, as a child she rose early each Friday morning to bake loaves of bread with her mother and sisters, which they then distributed to the poor in their community for the Sabbath. Unfortunately, the wealthy family was a target for criminals, and were robbed of all their possessions on multiple occasions. Despite these tough times, and the opposition from her family at a time when women were expected to stay at home, Nisanov pursued higher education and medical studies, becoming one of the first female doctors in the region. This made her part of an indispensable team that took care of the many ailing World War II veterans. Among those veterans was her future husband, David Polvanov, a high-ranking member of the Communist Party and a war hero that served in both European and Pacific battle zones. Ultimately, Nisanov became a pediatrician and worked diligently for some 40 years, treating children around the clock, never refusing a patient even when they arrived at her doorstep in the middle of the night. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Nisanov immigrated to Israel with her family. There, she took care of her grandchildren and worked from home to help support the family. Among her many jobs was tying and knotting tzitzit (Jewish ritual fringes).The family would move once more to Canada, where Nisanov was a communal leader and elder in Toronto’s Bukharian community. She was frequently visited by travelers from Israel, Uzbekistan, and the US, who came in gratitude for her life-saving role in their lives. Famous for her wisdom, modesty, and sense of humour, she was never slowed down by a life-long disability, a battle with colon cancer, arthritis, and chronic pain. Even in her last days she would be seen with a smile on her face and a “Baruch Hashem” on her lips. Sadly, Fania Nisanov, our dear grandmother, passed away early yesterday morning.

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Words of the Week

G-d transforms spirituality into physicality; the Jew must transform physical things into spiritual ones.
– Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov