|Birobidzhan (Russian: Биробиджа́н; Yiddish: ביראָבידזשאַן) is a town and the administrative center of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Russia. It is located on the Trans-Siberian railway, close to the border with the People's Republic of China, and is the home of two synagogues, including the Birobidzhan Synagogue, and the Jewish religious community of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast||The
2002 Census recorded the town as having a population of 77,250 (down
from the 83,667 registered in the
census of 1989). Birobidzhan is named after the two largest rivers in
autonomous oblast: the
Bira and the
Bidzhan, although only the Bira flows through the town, which lies to
the east of the Bidzhan valley. Both rivers are
tributaries of the
River. Visitors find the town surprisingly green. The chief economic
activity is light industry.
Category:Coats of arms of :Jewish Autonomous Region Copyright to the Russian Federation
The Flag is shown on the top line
Jewish and Yiddish culture in Birobidzhan
According to Rabbi Mordechai Scheiner, the Chief Rabbi of Birobidzhan and Chabad Lubavitch representative to the region, "Today one can enjoy the benefits of the Yiddish culture and not be afraid to return to their Jewish traditions. It's safe without any anti-Semitism, and we plan to open the first Jewish day school here." Mordechai Scheiner, an Israeli father of six, has been the rabbi in Birobidzhan for the last five years. He is also the host of the Russian television show, Yiddishkeit. The town's synagogue opened in 2004. Rabbi Scheiner says there are 4,000 Jews in Birobidzhan, just over 5 percent of the town's 75,000 population. The Birobidzhan Jewish community was led by Lev Toitman, until his death in September, 2007..
Jewish culture was revived in Birobidzhan much earlier than elsewhere in the Soviet Union. Yiddish theaters opened in the 1970s. Yiddish and Jewish traditions have been required components in all public schools for almost fifteen years, taught not as Jewish exotica but as part of the region's national heritage. The Birobidzhan Synagogue, completed in 2004, is next to a complex housing Sunday School classrooms, a library, a museum, and administrative offices. The buildings were officially opened in 2004 to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. Concerning the Jewish community of the oblast, Governor Nikolay Mikhaylovich Volkov has stated that he intends to "support every valuable initiative maintained by our local Jewish organizations." . In 2007, The First Birobidzhan International Summer Program for Yiddish Language and Culture was launched by Yiddish studies professor Boris Kotlerman of Bar-Ilan University.  The city's main street is even named after the Yiddish language writer and comedian Sholom Aleichem.
The Birobidzhan Jewish National University works in cooperation with the local religious community. The university is unique in the Russian Far East. The basis of the training course is study of the Hebrew language, history and classic Jewish texts. The town now boasts several state-run schools that teach Yiddish, as well as an Anglo-Yiddish faculty at its higher education college, a Yiddish school for religious instruction and a kindergarten. The five to seven year-olds spend two lessons a week learning to speak Yiddish, as well as being taught Jewish songs, dance and traditions. The school menorah was created in 1991. It is a public school that offers a half-day Yiddish and Jewish curriculum for those parents who choose it. About half the schoolís 120 pupils are enrolled in the Yiddish course. Many of them continue on to Public School No. 2, which offers the same half-day Yiddish/Jewish curriculum from first through 12th grade. Yiddish also is offered at Birobidzhanís Pedagogical Institute, one of the only university-level Yiddish courses in the country. Today, the cityís 14 public schools must teach Yiddish and Jewish tradition
| L'Chayim Comrade Stalin
A documentary film, L'Chayim, Comrade Stalin! on Stalin's creation of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast and its partial settlement by thousands of Russian and Yiddish-speaking Jews was released in 2003. As well as relating the history of the creation of the proposed Jewish homeland, the film features scenes of life in contemporary Birobidzhan and interviews with Jewish residents.
According to The New York Times, Stalin promoted the city as a home for secular Jews
Twin towns ó Sister cities
Birobidzhan is twinned with:
The climate in the territory is monsoonal/anti-cyclonic, with warm, wet, humid summers due to the influence of the East Asian monsoon; and cold, dry, windy conditions prevailing in the winter months courtesy of the Siberian high-pressure system.
The Amur Bridge Project
Valery Solomonovich Gurevich, government vice-chairman of Russiaís Jewish Autonomous Oblast said that China and Russia will start construction of the Amur Bridge Project at the end of 2007. The bridge will link Nizhneleninskoye in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast with Tongjiang in Heilongjiang Province. The 2,197-meter-long bridge, with an estimated investment of nearly US$230 million, is expected to be finished by the end of 2010, Gurevich said. Gurevich said that the proposal to construct a bridge across the river was actually made by Russia, in view of growing cargo transportation demands. "The bridge, in the bold estimate, will be finished in three years," Gurevich said
|Jewish Autonomous Oblast
(Russian: Евре́йская автоно́мная о́бласть, Yevreyskaya avtonomnaya oblast; Yiddish: ייִדישע אווטאָנאָמע געגנט, yidishe avtonome gegnt) is a federal subject of Russia (an autonomous oblast) situated in the Russian Far East, bordering Khabarovsk Krai and Amur Oblast of Russia and Heilongjiang province of China. Its administrative center is Birobidzhan.
The autonomous oblast was established in 1934. It was the result of Joseph Stalin's nationality policy, which allowed for the Jewish population of the Soviet Union to receive a territory in which to pursue Yiddish cultural heritage within a socialist framework. According to the 1939 population census, 17,695 Jews lived in the region (16% of the total population). The census of 1959, taken 6 years after Stalin's death, revealed that the Jewish population of the JAO declined to 14,269 persons. As of 2002, 2,327 Jews were living in the JAO, while ethnic Russians made up 90% of the population.
The most recent Russian Census (2002) lists a total population of 190,915, of which the largest group are the 171,697 ethnic Russians (89.93%), followed by 8,483 ethnic Ukrainians (4.44%). As of the same date, the Jewish community numbered 2,327 persons (1.22%).)
The following additional groups were enumerated: 1,196 Tatars (0.63%), 1,182 Belarusians (0.62%), 672 Moldavians (0.35%), 594 Azeris (0.31%), 453 Germans (0.24%), 402 Koreans (0.21%), 401 Mordovians (0.21%), 320 Chuvash (0.17%), 282 Armenians (0.15%), 188 Bashkirs (0.10%), 156 Uzbeks (0.08%), 148 Poles (0.08%), 132 Roma (0.07%), 128 Tajiks (0.07%), 103 Mari (0.05%) and 102 Chinese (0.05%). A total of 95 different ethnic groups was reported.
Vital Statistics for 2007:
In 2007, deaths outnumbered births (-376) in urban areas, while rural areas reported a slight excess of births over deaths (+90).
Vital Statistics for 2008:
English: Jewish Autonomous Oblast - Russia
Русский: Бирибиджан, Еврейская автономная область, Российская Федерация
The Town Square has an unusual monument. Unusual in that it is not to Lenin or Stalin
Military colonization and the advent of the Trans-Siberian Railway
In December 1858 the Russian government authorized formation of the Amur Cossacks for protection of the southeast boundary of Siberia and communication on the rivers of Amur and Ussuri. This military colonization included settlers from Transbaikalia. During the years 1858Ė82, sixty three settlements were founded, including, in 1857, Radde settlement; in 1858, Pashkovo, Pompeyevka, Puzino, Yekaterino-Nikolskoye, Mikhailo-Semyonovskoye, Voskresenovka, Petrovskoye, and Ventzelevo; in 1860, Storozhevoye, Soyuznoye, and Golovino; later in the decade, Babstovo, Bidzhan, and Bashurovo settlements. Expeditions of scientists ó including such geographers, ethnographers, naturalists, and botanists as Venyukov, Schrenck, Maksimovich, Radde, and Komarov - promoted the development of the new territories. Their achievements produced the first detailed "map of the Amur land".
Construction began in 1898 on the Trans-Siberian Railway connecting Chita and Vladivostok, starting at each end and meeting halfway. The project produced a large influx of new settlers and the foundation of new settlements. In 1908 Volochayevka, Obluchye, and Bira, Russia stations appeared; in 1910, Birakan, Londoko, and In stations; in 1912, Tikhonkaya station. The railroad was completed in October 1916, with the opening of the 2590 m (8500 ft) Khabarovsk Bridge across the Amur at Khabarovsk. In the pre-revolutionary period most local inhabitants were farmers. The only industrial enterprise was the Tungusskiy timber mill, although gold was mined in the Sutara River, and there were some small railway workshops. During the civil war, the territory of the future Jewish Autonomous Oblast was the scene of terrible battles (not much information on this) The economy declined, though it was recovering in 1926 and 1927.
Jewish settlement and development in the region
On March 28, 1928, the Presidium of the General Executive Committee of the USSR passed the decree "On the attaching for Komzet of free territory near the Amur River in the Far East for settlement of the working Jews." The decree meant that there was "a possibility of establishment of a Jewish administrative territorial unit on the territory of the called region".
On August 20, 1930 the General Executive Committee of RSFSR accepted the decree "On formation of the Birobidzhan national region in the structure of the Far Eastern Territory". The State Planning Committee considered the Birobidzhan national region as a separate economic unit. In 1932 the first scheduled figures of the region development were considered and authorized.
On May 7, 1934, the Presidium of the General Executive Committee accepted the decree on its transformation in the Jewish Autonomous Region within the Russian Federation. In 1938, with formation of the Khabarovsk Territory, the Jewish Autonomous Region (JAR) was included in its structure.
According to Joseph Stalin's national policy, each of the national groups that formed the Soviet Union would receive a territory in which to pursue cultural autonomy in a socialist framework. In that sense, it was also a response to two supposed threats to the Soviet state: Judaism, which ran counter to official state policy of atheism; and Zionism, the creation of the modern State of Israel, which countered Soviet views of nationalism. The idea was to create a new "Soviet Zion", where a proletarian Jewish culture could be developed. Yiddish, rather than Hebrew, would be the national language, and a new socialist literature and arts would replace religion as the primary expression of culture.
Stalin's theory on the National Question held that a group could only be a nation if they had a territory, and since there was no Jewish territory, per se, the Jews were not a nation and did not have national rights. Jewish Communists argued that the way to solve this ideological dilemma was by creating a Jewish territory, hence the ideological motivation for the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. Politically, it was also considered desirable to create a Soviet Jewish homeland as an ideological alternative to Zionism and the theory put forward by Socialist Zionists such as Ber Borochov that the Jewish Question could be resolved by creating a Jewish territory in Palestine. Thus Birobidzhan was important for propaganda purposes as an argument against Zionism which was a rival ideology to Marxism among left-wing Jews.
Another important goal of the Birobidzhan project was to increase settlement in the remote Soviet Far East, especially along the vulnerable border with China. In 1928, there was virtually no settlement in the area, while Jews had deep roots in the western half of the Soviet Union, in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia proper. In fact, there had initially been proposals to create a Jewish Soviet Republic in the Crimea or in part of Ukraine but these were rejected because of fears of antagonizing non-Jews in those regions.
The geography and climate of Birobidzhan were harsh, the landscape largely swampland, and any new settlers would have to build their lives from scratch. Stalin was motivated by anti-Semitism in selecting Birobidzhan: he wanted to keep the Jews as far away from the centers of power as possible.
By the 1930s, a massive propaganda campaign was under way to induce more Jewish settlers to move there. Some of these incorporated the standard Soviet propaganda tools of the era, and included posters and Yiddish-language novels describing a socialist utopia there. Other methods bordered on the bizarre. In one instance, leaflets promoting Birobidzhan were dropped from an airplane over a Jewish neighborhood in Belarus. In another instance, a government-produced Yiddish film called Seekers of Happiness told the story of a Jewish family that fled the Great Depression in the United States to make a new life for itself in Birobidzhan.
As the Jewish population grew, so did the impact of Yiddish culture on the region. A Yiddish newspaper, the Birobidzhaner Shtern (Cyrillic: Биробиджанер Штерн, Hebrew: ביראָבידזשאַנער שטערן, "Star of Birobidzhan"), was established; a theater troupe was created; and streets being built in the new city were named after prominent Yiddish authors such as Sholom Aleichem and Y. L. Peretz. The Yiddish language was deliberately bolstered as a basis for efforts to secularize the Jewish population and, despite the general curtailment of this action as described immediately below, the Birobidzhaner Shtern continues to publish a section in Yiddish.
Valdgeym is a Jewish settlement within the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. The settlement was founded in 1928 and was the first collective farm established in the oblast. In 1980 a Yiddish school was opened in the settlement. Amurzet also has a history of Jewish settlement in the JAO. For the period 1929 through 1939, this village was the center of Jewish settlement south of Birobidzhan. The present day Jewish community members hold Kabalat Shabbat ceremonies and gatherings that feature songs in Yiddish, Jewish cuisine, and broad information presenting historical facts on Jewish culture. Many descendants of the founders of this settlement, which was established just after the turn of the 20th century, have left their native village. Those who remained here in Amurzet, especially those having relatives in Israel, are learning about the traditions and roots of the Jewish people. The population of Amurzet, as estimated in late 2006, is 5,213. Smidovich is another early Jewish settlement in the JAO.
Stalin and the Doctors' Plot
The Birobidzhan experiment ground to a halt in the mid-1930s, during Stalin's first campaign of purges. Jewish leaders were arrested and executed, and Yiddish schools were shut down. Shortly after this, World War II brought to an abrupt end concerted efforts to bring Jews east.
There was a slight revival in the Birobidzhan idea after the war as a potential home for Jewish refugees. Efforts in this direction ended, however, with the Doctors' plot, the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state, and Stalin's second wave of purges shortly before his death. Once again, the Jewish leadership was arrested and efforts were made to stamp out Yiddish cultureóeven the Judaica collection in the local library was burned. In the ensuing years the idea of an autonomous Jewish region in the Soviet Union was all but forgotten.
Some scholars such as Louis Rapoport, Jonathan Brent and Vladimir Naumov assert that Stalin had devised a plan to deport all of the Jews of the Soviet Union to Birobidzhan much as he had internally deported other national minorities such as the Crimean Tatars and Volga Germans, forcing them to move thousands of miles from their homes. The Doctors' Plot may have been the first element of this plan. If so, the plan was aborted by Stalin's death on March 5, 1953.
In 1991, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast was transferred from under the jurisdiction of Khabarovsk Krai to the jurisdiction of the Federation, but by that time most of the Jews had gone and the remaining Jews now constituted less than two percent of the local population. Nevertheless, Yiddish is once again taught in the schools, a Yiddish radio station is in operation, and as noted above, the Birobidzhaner Shtern includes a section in Yiddish.
L'Chayim, Comrade Stalin!, a documentary on Stalin's creation of the Jewish Autonomous Region and its settlement, was released in 2003. In addition to being a history of the creation of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, the film features scenes of contemporary Birobidzhan and interviews with Jewish residents.