Sunday, February 17, 2008

Domestic Violence? - The murder of Dr. Daniel Malakov

Doctor Is Charged in a Killing, and Her People Bear the Shame
New York Times
February 17, 2008

THE COMMERCE David Shemonov, a businessman, on 108th Street in Rego Park, Queens. Many shops cater to Bukharan Jews, immigrants from Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries. -- Uli Seit for The New York Times

Dr. Daniel Malakov’s name is still on the placard that hangs outside his office in Rego Park, Queens, even though he was killed three and a half months ago, and even though another orthodontist now works there in his stead.

Inside, across from the polished black desk where a receptionist answers calls in Russian, Dr. Malakov’s degrees and awards still crowd one wall.

His name hangs heavily over the small, proud community of Bukharan Jews who immigrated from
Uzbekistan in the early 1990s, and who speak of Dr. Malakov with reverence and sorrow.

Yet the manner of Dr. Malakov’s death has evoked something that this young immigrant group is not used to feeling: shame.

On Oct. 28, a brilliant Sunday morning, Dr. Malakov, who was 34, died after being shot three times in a playground close to his office and near 108th Street, the bustling heart of Bukharan society in Queens. He had brought his daughter, Michelle, 4, to be picked up by his estranged wife, Dr. Mazoltuv Borukhova, who is 34 and a physician. The pair had been in a rancorous custody battle over Michelle, and a judge, a week earlier, had given Dr. Malakov temporary custody of the girl. That morning, moments after Michelle ran into her mother’s arms, Dr. Malakov was shot. The gunman fled.

The Bukharan Jews in Queens reeled. Dr. Malakov was widely seen as gentle and humble, and his family was revered. His father, Khaiko Malakov, had been the chief of a major hospital in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic. His uncle Ezro Malakov was a famed musician. His brother, Gavriel, is a physical therapist; they shared the office in Rego Park. His sister, Stella, was a much-loved high school math teacher. She died of leukemia about a year before Dr. Malakov was killed; Khaiko Malakov, distraught, wrote a book about her.

“This is a known family,” said Alex Stanberg, 25, a Bukharan Jew. “Every person likes them.”

He added, “Why this happened, I cannot say. Now the Bukharans are in shame, for the first time ever.”
As the days and weeks after the shooting passed, allegations and the investigation into the crime only deepened the bewilderment of the Bukharan Jews.

Late in November, a distant relative of Dr. Borukhova’s was arrested and accused of murdering Dr. Malakov. On Feb. 7, Dr. Borukhova was arrested and charged with arranging the killing. According to the indictment, she and her relative, Mikhail Mallayev, had exchanged 91 phone calls in the days leading up to Dr. Malakov’s death.

She pleaded not guilty, but among the Bukharans in Queens, both Dr. Borukhova and her family had already been condemned.

Within hours of her son’s murder, Dr. Malakov’s mother, Malka, had begun blaming Dr. Borukhova. The next week, in a custody hearing for Michelle, Gavriel Malakov testified that Dr. Borukhova’s mother, Esta, screamed at his father, saying, “You will bury all your kids.”

The condemnation spread. It seemed unthinkable that anyone would arrange for a child to see her own father gunned down. (Michelle is now in foster care, though the Malakovs are trying to gain custody).
While the Malakov family is known and respected, few people seemed to know of the Borukhovas before the murder, and Dr. Borukhova’s testimony in family court after the murder that Dr. Malakov had repeatedly beaten her and sexually abused their daughter did little to sway their sympathy.

Long before her arrest, people on 108th Street, recognizing her face from news accounts, began staring stonily at Dr. Borukhova, sometimes falling silent or pointing when her relatives passed by. A few business owners turned members of the Borukhova family away. Some clients stopped going to her office, which she shared with her brother-in-law, Arthur Natanov.

Underlying the shock was a sense of amazement that a woman could have been behind Dr. Malakov’s murder.

“Women are usually respectful,” said Merik Mordecai, 43, a jeweler on 108th Street who is a Bukharan Jewish immigrant. The custody battle, he said, was for a court of law to decide. “What is going on with a Bukharan woman to have decided to do a thing like that?” he asked.

Through a rabbi, Dr. Borukhova and her family declined to comment. Her lawyer stressed that early judgments should not be made.

“Everybody should keep in mind the presumption of innocence, since she has entered a not guilty plea,” the lawyer, Stephen Scaring, wrote in an e-mail message.

But to many, the Borukhova name is already irreparably soiled, partly because they believe she has sullied them.

“I don’t ever want to see her, or her mother, or anyone of her blood,” said a limousine driver and Uzbek immigrant, who would not give his name. “We are all shamed, we are all depressed, because it is unbelievable.”

Bukharans began emigrating from Central Asia in significant numbers in the 1970s, but it was not until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 that they left in great waves, most bound for Israel or the United States.

Bukharan Jews have been in Central Asia for about 2,500 years, largely in what became the republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Deeply isolated, they spoke Russian and Bukhori, a hybrid of Farsi and Hebrew. In 2006, there were 17,277 people born in Uzbekistan living in the city, according to the Department of City Planning, but local religious leaders said the number was much larger. Rabbi Itzhak Yehoshua, the chief rabbi of the Bukharans in the United States, estimates that about three-quarters of the roughly 60,000 Bukharan Jews in America, mostly from Uzbekistan, live in New York. The vast majority settled in Queens.

The group is tight-knit. The Congress of the Bukharan Jews of the United States and Canada publishes its own version of the yellow pages, listing the names of every known Bukharan in the two countries.

As with any ethnic group emerging in another country, successes — and failures — are deeply felt. Having a doctor or lawyer or accountant in the family is highly valued, proof of success and acceptance in a newly adopted land. In this way, the Malakov murder was especially devastating.

“The immigrant way of thinking is very sensitive,” said Rabbi Yehoshua, who lives in Queens. “These were two successful young doctors, and after the shock was a feeling of opportunity lost. It’s an American dream that became a nightmare.”

The pairing of Dr. Malakov and Dr. Borukhova had seemed ideal. The couple adhered to the edict of marrying within their community. They were both well educated. Dr. Malakov had a degree from
New York University and also studied at Columbia. Dr. Borukhova was a specialist in internal medicine at North Shore University Hospital on Long Island.

But soon after the couple wed in December 2001, the relationship began to falter. Khaiko Malakov said that they often quarreled, especially over how to best raise Michelle, and that Dr. Borukhova’s mother, who lived with them, was deeply critical of Dr. Malakov. Local leaders tried to help patch things up. Rabbi Yehoshua met several times with the couple and their families, but, he said, the problems seemed nearly intractable, and puzzling.

“We believe in the system. We tried to mediate,” Rabbi Yehoshua said. “But in order for me to mediate, I have to feel a cooperation. But both of them were very difficult.

“It was difficult to understand, maybe there were issues I didn’t know about. But they weren’t listening,” he said.

The couple separated after Michelle was born, then reunited, then separated again. Then the custody battle began. After Dr. Malakov’s death, harsh allegations surfaced from both sides, both in and out of court. Dr. Borukhova said her husband’s outward charm disguised a vicious side, and described horrific abuse. The Malakov family said Dr. Malakov told them he was scared of his in-laws.

A state senator from Staten Island, Diane J. Savino, testified in family court that two of Dr. Borukhova’s sisters had approached her on Oct. 18, 10 days before the murder. They had been brought to the senator, a former child services caseworker, by staff members who thought she could help them. The sisters asked Ms. Savino what would become of Michelle if Dr. Malakov could not take care of her anymore. Dr. Malakov had been awarded temporary custody after complaining that his wife had thwarted his visitation rights.

Even now, after Dr. Borukhova’s arrest, the Malakov family fears retribution. A police officer was recently posted outside the home of Dr. Malakov’s parents.

Many along 108th Street said nothing could excuse Dr. Malakov’s murder, or the damage it almost certainly has inflicted on Michelle.

“We are ashamed, of course, but mostly we are so upset at what has happened to this little child,” said a woman wrapped in a floor-length fur coat who was buying fruit at an outdoor market near nightfall one day last week. She knew Dr. Borukhova, she said, and would not give her name. “It’s one thing to do this right in our community. It’s another to do it in front of a child.”

THE SPIRIT Itzhak Yehoshua, chief rabbi for Bukharan Jews in America, counseled Dr. Daniel Malakov and his estranged wife, Dr. Mazoltuv Borukhova.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ephraim Bryks gives classes in many Bukharian shuls and is protected by some Bukharian rabbis.

February 18, 2008 12:10 PM  

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