The corner of 172nd Street and 73rd Avenue in Fresh Meadows has an official name: Ilyau Aronov Corner, honoring the builder of the Bukharian Jewish community in this section of Queens. Last Sunday, Councilman Rory Lancman made the renaming official at a ceremony that revealed the street sign carrying the name.
“From today forward, anyone who passes by will see in the most conspicuous way that the Bukharian community of Fresh Meadows has successfully established itself,” Lancman said. “It truly was a pleasure to help this come to fruition, and I look forward to this wonderful community’s continued growth.”
The namesake worked in Uzbekistan in building construction, and re-established his career in his new American home, participating in synagogue building projects across Queens. “When we settled here, we initially attended Rabbi Yaakov Nasirov’s synagogue on Kent Street. We walked past this corner and my father said that it would be an ideal location for a synagogue,” said Robert Aronov. “The next day, we saw a ‘for sale’ sign on the ranch house on this corner.”
The elder Aronov put down an offer and gathered 100 people to raise funds for the down payment. “We raised $140,000 in 2006 and we purchased this property. As he was making plans for the synagogue, he died a year later,” Aronov said.
The synagogue that was built at this corner, Beit Eliyahu, carries on his name and legacy. His son Robert serves as its president. “Over the years of his life, he managed to do so many useful things for the community that a person of 100 years could not do,” said Rabbi Avraham Tabibov, the rav of the synagogue. “I am proud to have known this wonderful person, and now I am working with his son Robert to raise the spiritual level of the community.”
Ilyau (Eliyahu) Aronov was born in Tashkent in 1944 to Tova and Rahamim Aronov at a time of war, when all families in Central Asia experienced the loss of relatives on the front lines and rationing of food at home. Following the devastating earthquake on April 26, 1966, Aronov participated in the rebuilding of the Uzbek capital city as a construction engineer. He applied to emigrate in 1979, losing his job and serving a prison term. Thousands of fellow Soviet Jews were subjected to this non-person status for requesting to leave the “workers’ paradise.” He emigrated in 1989 with his wife, son, and daughter.
When he settled in Hillcrest, he was among the first Bukharian Jews in this neighborhood of single-family houses. In the past two decades, their numbers have grown, with families seeking homes that are less expensive than those in Forest Hills, but still within New York City, and in a suburban setting. “More than a thousand families live here today,” said Robert Aronov. Since those early years, Lancman provided assistance to the congregants of Beit Eliyahu. “He gave us the road map on the variance process to build the synagogue and advised us on applying for Homeland Security grants. Rory has been very helpful to our community.”
A year ago, Lancman spoke to Aronov about honoring the Bukharian Jewish community with a street sign, and Ilyau Aronov was suggested as the namesake. “This is undoubtedly a momentous occasion in the Bukharian Community, since this is the first street in New York City named for a Bukharian American,” said Alliance of Bukharian Americans board member David Mordukhaev. “A great soul serves everyone all the time. A great soul never dies. It brings us together again and again.”
Since its completion in 2010, the Beit Eliyahu building has served as more than a place to pray, hosting both festivities and other programs. “It was a privilege to be part of the historic street renaming of the Eliyahu Aronov Corner,” said Chazaq CEO Yaniv Meirov. “We work closely with Beit Eliyahu on various events, including lectures and children’s events.”
Robert Aronov said that, with the growth of his synagogue’s membership, there are plans to expand so that it can hold more congregants and offer a greater variety of programs. “We’ve had to turn away people on some of the holidays for lack of seating,” he said. Fortunately, there are other synagogues nearby, such as the Young Israel of Hillcrest, the Torah Center of Hillcrest, Congregation Ohr Moshe, and Congregation Bet-El, which can accommodate the growing Bukharian Jewish population in Fresh Meadows and Hillcrest.
Although Ilyau Aronov Corner is the first street sign in Queens to commemorate a Bukharian Jew, the first such sign in the city is Piotr Pinkhasov Plaza in Washington Heights, at the corner of Bennett Avenue and West 184th Street. That sign was installed in 1978 during the height of the movement to free Soviet Jews. That sign was championed by Rabbi Shlomo Kahn who sought to raise awareness of Pinkhasov while he was imprisoned in the Gulag. He was subsequently released and made aliyah to Israel with his family.
By Sergey Kadinsky