Jewish Autonomous Region

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Jewish Autonomous Region

Post by John2 » Fri Dec 29, 2017 5:27 pm

I haven't thought about the Jewish Autonomous Region in Russia in twenty years (and didn't think about it much then), but I find myself doing so again on a slow night at work while nothing else is on my mind. It is one of those "Say what?" kind of things, and it turns out that there is even somewhat of a Jewish revival going on there. I've poked around various websites and this one sums up the area well.
At first glance, [the capital] Birobidzhan seems like any other Siberian city, with its massive statue of Lenin, World War II monument, and crumbling Soviet-era apartment blocks. But then you notice that Jewish symbols are everywhere, from the huge menorah dominating the main square to the large sign in the train station welcoming travelers to "Birobidzhan" in Yiddish.

Those symbols are a reminder that this Siberian territory bordering Manchuria and seven time zones east of Moscow is a Jewish republic. The Jewish Autonomous Region was created by Stalin 75 years ago as an alternative to the Zionist project in Israel. As many as 18,000 Jews moved here. At first it flourished, with Yiddish theaters, schools, and newspapers everywhere, but Stalin soon wiped out most of the elite. Those Jews that could flee, did. Birobidzhan's last synagogue burned down in the 1950s and today, just 6,000 of the region's 200,000 residents identify as Jews.

But the Jewish dream in Siberia is not quite dead yet, and the region is now experiencing a small revival, thanks to Jews arriving from Israel. ... han-Israel

And the New York Times has an interesting article about the revival here:
Unlike other places contemplated for Jewish resettlement over the years, like Uganda or Alaska or Japan, Birobidzhan, (pronounced bi-ra-bi-JAN) cannot be written off as a historical footnote or dismissed as fiction. Though it never became the agrarian, socialist-Jewish utopia that some founders envisioned, Birobidzhan remains a Jewish place.

The old synagogue, a ramshackle, one-story wooden house, is still functioning, after closing briefly in the mid-1990s. A new synagogue, financed by the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, has been built in the center of downtown, along with a Jewish community center. Sholem Aleichem Street remains the main road, and a statue of the Fiddler on the Roof still greets concertgoers outside the symphony hall.

No doubt, the Jewish population has dropped, to less than 7 percent of the 76,000 people who live in Birobidzhan, and less than 2 percent in the wider region. Very few are religious.

But some Jews who left for Israel after the collapse of the Soviet Union have returned — tugged home even from the Promised Land, which still cannot promise peace or tranquillity.

On the same weekend last month, Birobidzhan celebrated Rosh Hashana and the city’s 75th anniversary. Visitors arrive by train, a stop on the Trans-Siberian, to see the city’s name written in huge Yiddish letters. One local elementary school still teaches Yiddish ...

The rabbi of the new synagogue, Eliyahu Riss, is hoping its Sunday school will engage a new generation.

Riva Khaskelevna Shmain, a founding Birobidzhaner who recently celebrated her 78th birthday, said she has hope for the future. “There is a Jewish kindergarten,” she said. “So I think all this will continue.”

Ms. Sarashevskaya, the editor, said those who declared Stalin’s experiment a failure missed the point. “Of course, this is not Israel,” Ms. Sarashevskaya said. “But that was not the goal. The Jewish Autonomous Region is wonderful as it is. This is a quiet, tranquil and cozy place, good for married couples, elderly people and children.” She added, “This is a Jewish place.” ... ppeal.html
And this is a good video about the region:

And here is another interesting article:
In the Far East of Russia, near the city of Khabarovsk, a 14,000 square-mile area slightly larger than the state of Maryland borders on China with an estimated population of 170,000. The name of its capital, Birobidzhan, with 75,000 inhabitants, is often used to refer to the whole district, which is officially called the Jewish Autonomous Region (JAR).

The Trans-Siberian railroad passes across the region, connecting Europe with Russia’s Pacific Asian coast by the shortest route. The Amur River on the JAR’s southern border provides a waterway out to the Pacific Ocean.

Birobidzhan, seven time zones east of Moscow, is a curious anomaly of history. ... so-jewish/
And Masha Gessen's book, Where the Jews Aren't; The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia's Jewish Atonomous Region, which is discussed in the link above, is partially viewable here: ... &q&f=false

I wouldn't mind visiting this place. Regardless of Stalin's motive for creating the region, it seems like just the sort of oddball place for a guy like me.
Light the song with sense and color, hold away despair. More than this I will not ask, faced with mysteries dark and vast.

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