June 15-21, 2012
QUEENS BOULEVARD COLUMN (translated from Russian)
“A Start in Life”
In the past week, many Queens newspapers wrote about Yakob Yakubov—a young immigrant from Tashkent who was assigned the honor of presenting greetings in the name of Queens College students in front of a huge audience of several thousand people. This year, the college graduated more than 2000 students, accompanied by their parents, friends, and near ones!
I was called by Boris Kandov, who also attended this ceremony in connection with the graduation of his daughter, Violetta. Boris said that his heart filled with pride over the smart, articulate presentation made by a young member of our Bukharian Jewish community.
Finding Yakob wasn’t hard. He came to New York as a 15-year-old boy with his parents in 1995. He’s the older son in the family of Yuriy and Elvira Yakubov. He studied through the sixth level at Solomon Shechter, a Hebrew day school. Then this especially gifted student entered the competition for Hunter College High School, completing it with outstanding results, turning in sparkling exams in mathematics, English language, and composition. By the way, Hunter is one of the top high schools in the city. In 2012, Yakob completed his studies at Macaulay Honors Queens College, receiving his degree in the area of neurology. He studied evolution and the protection of nature in the Galapagos Islands—the same place where Charles Darwin began his career. He was an intern in the summer at the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel) and was president of the student neurology club.
In October, he turns 22. He plans to continue his studies at the Columbia School of Dental Medicine. Right now, Yakob is in another state; this interview was conducted by telephone.
RN: Congratulations, Mister Yakubov!
YY: Thank you!
RN: Yakob, why did you take up neurology? It’s so complicated.
YY: It’s linked to biology and psychology, subjects I especially love. I was always interested in how the brain works, how we think and what we do, why we act one way and not the other. I completed my studies in four years. [Queens College] was convenient, right near home.
RN: Can you comment on the fact that our young people today go to study with more hunger than before?
YY: I don’t know, but I was surrounded by not a few peers who did well in my school in different departments.
RN: And not a few of them were Bukharian Jews?
YY: Yes, enough.
RN: But unfortunately, there are more than a few examples of this—many kids finish college and then go to work at anything that’s convenient, like hairdressing. Is that normal?
YY: I don’t know. On one side, that’s a normal profession, a pleasant manner of life, respectable earnings. But there are people interested in different sciences, in professions associated with long training.
Maybe this isn’t better than to become a hairdresser. You have to create the conditions necessary for preparation for what you want to study. My parents allowed me to study and not work during my studies; I was able to dedicate myself fully to college. Everyone doesn’t have that opportunity.
In any case, an educated hairdresser is better than an ignoramus. But mainly, he has to be able to cut hair.
RN: Why did Queens College select you? It’s a big responsibility to appear before an audience of several thousand.
YY: I myself don’t know. I was told that they went by the recommendations of professors who led our courses. When I gave my documents to Columbia University, I got good recommendations from my mentors. It was explained to me that there were many [recommendations], and they were a reason for the decision in favor of my candidacy. However, people like me are not uncommon at Queens College. But I was lucky.
RN: It is known that this college was the first in the history of the United States to have courses on the history and culture of Bukharian Jews. Did you take Emmanuel Rybakov’s class?
YY: Yes, with great pleasure. It was interesting, because in our schools we study the history of Europe, America, different countries—Germany, England. … And then the opportunity to learn about the history of my own people appeared. For me this was a great help. I wanted to learn more about the history of my family, the Yakubovs and the Mullokandovies (on my mother’s side).
I would suggest that an individual as smitten with his subject as Emmanuel Rybakov—for everyone in our community, that’s a huge gift. After all, the generation of my parents already forgot a lot, what can be said about our generation?
RN: You have landed at Columbia University. What do you plan to become?
YY: I dream of becoming a dentist. As with any medical specialty, dental school is a huge effort, involving not only knowledge, but also volunteer work.
RN: Isn’t the price worrisome? You have to pay $60 to $80 thousand a year.
YY: No, everyone in America follows that route. You simply have to diligently study for four years and then you can earn money and economize.
RN: You have two sisters. How are they doing in school?
YY: I have two younger sisters, 16 and 12 years old. Liza studies at Townsend Harris High School. She doesn’t yet know what she wants to be, but she’s doing well. Shushanna studies at Forest Hills High School.
RN: You’ve become a very popular man in our community.
YY: I didn’t, for that, do anything special. I tried to study well. This is just the beginning of my path. I simply studied, that’s all. Now I dream of becoming a dentist.
RN: You’ve had a very successful start. You’re not afraid of blood?
YY: To be honest, I’m a little scared, but that can be overcome.
RN: What qualities do you value in people?
YY: Honesty and industriousness.
RN: Do you have fears? Of what are you afraid?
YY: I don’t know.
RN: Do you feel sure of yourself? How tall are you?
YY: 170 centimeters.
RN: How is it that you haven’t forgotten calculations in centimeters?
YY: I, knowing that you think in centimeters, anticipated this and immediately verified it on the Internet.
RN: Are you a religious man?
YY: No, not very. While studying at the Shechter School, I was more religious. But on the Sabbath we gather at the family table, and we observe all the holidays. Our family is very traditional. We live in Rego Park and go to the Ohr Natan Synagogue.
RN: Is it normal for you to live in Bukharian-Jewish society?
YY: Yes, of course. We have an interesting culture. It seems to me that in it the idea of practicality is supported, which is important in America. Don’t complicate the situation and find in it a rational exit. I would suggest that the next ten years will be decisive for Bukharian Jews; a generation is growing that was raised in a free society where one can have access in all spheres of education, culture, and upbringing.
We will be witnesses to the serious progress and advancement of Bukharian Jews in all aspects of social, political, and cultural life in America.
RN: I think that we will meet in 10 years and return to your prognosis, published in our newspaper. By the way, what is the Bukharian Times to you?
YY: I see this newspaper every week at my grandfather’s, on the table. My parents read it, too.
RN: I am very pleased that such wise, gifted young people are in your generation.
YY: You can be happy that I am not the only one like me growing up in my generation.