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Bukharian teens find roots lie in Forest Hills, Israel

It was not the only expression of hospitality the youth group encountered during their 10-day tour of Israel. Though at times feeling like strangers in a strange land, not once did the 15 members of Rego Park's Bukharian Teen Lounge say they felt unwelcome or uneasy. This surprised some of the youths, who traveled to the nexus of their religion last month hoping to reinvigorate their faith but also expecting to see some signs of tension and hostility borne out of the Israeli-Palestine strife."The media shows them throwing rocks and everything here, but really they're quiet and don't point it out," said junior Artem Pinkhasob, referring to the conflict. "When I got there, it was peaceful. No one looked at you wrong."The five Forest Hills High School students who sat on a couch inside the 108th Street lounge were among the ones picked to go on the trip because they were the most active in the Jewish Child Care Association's after-school program. They all have relatives living in Israel and are part of the some 100,000 South Central Asian immigrant families who fled to Israel or New York City after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Their experiences in Israel, the five said, exceeded their expectations.At the Wailing Wall, they were impressed by the constant presence of standing men on one side and sitting women on the other whispering prayers in the pouring rain. At the Temple Mount they saw the unity of Jewish, Christian and Islamic history: on the first floor lay King David's tomb; on the second was where Jesus is thought to have held the Last Supper; and above that -- a mosque. At the Israeli Parliament, they stood in a large room with a seating arrangement shaped like a Menorah. From Jerusalem, they floated effortlessly in the salty Dead Sea, rolled in a huge tub of mud and partied in Tel Aviv.In a Kibbutz region, they found the 500 inhabitants' communal way of life -- how they ate, slept and did laundry together -- especially remarkable."They put all their money into one pot. They share everything," sophomore Isaac Rubib said. One morning, around 5 a.m., the group climbed the Masada mountain that towers above the Dead Sea. They wanted to reach the top in time to watch the sun rise from the epic fortress where in 73 A.D., after the fall of Jerusalem, 960 Jewish exiles committed suicide rather than submit to a Roman siege.The lounge's coordinator, Karina Polonskaya, who chaperoned the trip, said overall the time in Israel brought the students closer to their religion and gave them many unique experiences."But Masada," she said. "That made the biggest impression."Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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