Yaniv Meirov has been a leader since he and his community — both young — were even younger. His people, who hail from the Bukhara-speaking part of the former Soviet Union that included parts of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, began to arrive here in the early 1990s in the tens of thousands after the USSR broke up.
Meirov, who was born here, created his first communal institution — a weekly Torah commentary and newsletter —when he was 15. Then he had an idea for an event featuring a motivational speaker that drew over 500 people. His publication and event series coalesced into a nonprofit called Chazaq, or “Strong” in Hebrew, in 2006.
“When a Bukharian has pride in being Bukharian they mention Chazaq,” Meirov said. “We used to be the underdogs; slowly but surely we’re building ourselves nice houses and synagogues.”
The organization offers afterschool activities and mentors, helps teenagers find jobs and pays special attention to young people who are at risk of getting into trouble with the law. In March, it hosted a fundraiser at which 1,200 people swarmed an auditorium in the community’s Queens enclave to listen to speakers, socialize, eat and be entertained by magicians and mentalists.
As Chazaq has grown, it has also become a vehicle for connecting Bukharians with other Jewish communities from a place of parity. It has helped Bukharians educate everybody else about who they are.
“People always associate Bukharians with Russians, but Russians are completely different,” Meirov said.
Now Chazaq is also broadening its reach; it is working with Ashkenazi, Persian and Georgian Jews, he added. At the fundraiser, Meirov said, only about half the attendees were Bukharian.
Likewise, Meirov’s own world is growing. He is the senior consultant to the Queens Jewish Link, a newspaper serving the borough’s Orthodox community and is serving on both the Queens Jewish Council and Community Board 6.
He also runs his own marketing business — he doesn’t draw a salary from Chazaq — and is both a new husband and a new father.
“We’re building a stronger future,” he said. “We want everything to be easier for our kids.”
Noted nuptials: The community called Meirov’s wedding, attended by almost 1,000 people, “the wedding of the century.”