History of the Kazakhstan Jewish Community
Scholars hold that the first Jews arrived to the territory of modern Kazakhstan in the Middle ages as merchants travelling the Silk Road. Jewish presence is known in the city of Turkestan, there are mentions of a synagogue there in the 15th century.
One of the first written mentions of the – Ashkenazi – Jewish community of Kazakhstan belongs to the 19th century. It says that there were 12 people “of the Judaic faith” in the Semipalatinsk region in 1825.
In Soviet times the legal Jewish institutional setting consisted of the functioning synagogues in Alma-Ata, Chimkent, Turkestan, and Kyzylorda. The Jewish population grew significantly in the 1930s and 1940s by migration from the former Pale of Settlement and mass evacuation in 1941- 1942, when over 100,000 Jews from the European part of the USSR were brought to Kazakhstan. While there were 3,600 Jews living in Kazakhstan in 1936, in 1939 the number grew to 19,200; and further to 28,000 in 1959.
According to censuses, the Jewish population decreased gradually: there were 27,700 Jews there in 1970, 23,500 in 1979, and 19,900 in 1989. This increase was perhaps due to assimilation, emigration, and a low birth rate. Approximately 20,000 people emigrated from Kazakhstan to Israel in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Currently the Jewish population is difficult to measure exactly; according to the Jewish organizations’ own data, there are over 50,000 Jews living in Kazakhstan (11,000 of those in Almaty). Most of the Kazakh Jews live in the larger cities where 13 community centers have been opened.