Jewish Autonomous Oblast
Infobox Russian federal subject
EnglishName=Jewish Autonomous Oblast
RussianName=Евре́йская автоно́мная о́бласть
Far Eastern Federal District
Far Eastern economic region
de jure": Russian
Jewish Autonomous Oblast ( _ru. Евре́йская автоно́мная о́бласть, "Yevreyskaya avtonomnaya oblast") is a federal subject of
Russia( autonomous oblast) situated in the Far Eastern federal district, bordering Khabarovsk Kraiand Amur Oblastof Russia and Heilongjiangprovince of China. The region was created in 1934 as the Jewish National District. It was the result of Joseph Stalin's nationality policy, which allowed for the Jewish populationof Russia to receive a territory in which to pursue Yiddish cultural heritagewithin a socialistframework.
The Jewish Autonomous Oblast is located in the Vladivostok Time Zone (VLAT/VLAST). UTC offset is +1000 (VLAT)/+1100 (VLAST).
climatein 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.
Population (2002 Census): 190,915.
Ethnic groups: As per the 2002 census, ethnic Russiansat 171,697 (89.93%), constituted by far the largest part of the population, followed by ethnic Ukrainiansat 8,483 (4.44%), Jews(the oblast's titular nation) at 2,327 (1.22% [Mark Tolts: [http://www.jafi.org.il/education/100/concepts/demography/Tolts_Article1.pdf The Post-Soviet Jewish Population in Russia and the World.] Published in: Jews in Russia and Eastern Europe, 2004, No. 1 (52). p.51] ), Tatarsat 1,196 (0.63%), and Belarusians1,182 (0.62%). There were also reported to be 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%). All in all, residentsidentified themselves as belonging to no less than 95 different ethnic groups.
Vital Statistics for 2007:
*Births: 2,418 (13.02 per 1000, 12.29 in Urban areas & 14.46 in Rural areas) [http://www.gks.ru] .
*Deaths: 2,794 (15.05 per 1000, 16.08 in Urban areas & 13.03 in Rural areas).
*Natural Growth Rate: -0.20% per year (-0.38% in Urban areas & +0.14% in Rural areas).
In 2007, deaths outnumbered births(-376) in urban areas, while rural areas reported a slight excess of births over deaths(+90).
Military colonization and the advent of the Trans-Siberian Railway
In December 1858 the Russian government authorized formation of the
Amur Cossacksfor 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 1858-1882, 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 — 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 famous
Trans-Siberian Railwayconnecting Chitaand 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, Russiastations 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 Bridgeacross 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 battlesvague|date=May 2008. 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
Komzetof 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". [http://www.eao.ru/eng/?p=361 Establishment and Development of the JAR] Jewish Autonomous Region official government website. Accessed 2007-08-30]
August 20, 1930the 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.
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.
Joseph Stalin's national policy, each of the national groups that formed the Soviet Unionwould receive a territory in which to pursue cultural autonomyin 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 culturecould 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 Borochovthat the Jewish Questioncould 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 Marxismamong left-wingJews.
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, Belarusand Russia proper. In fact, there had initially been proposals to create a Jewish Soviet Republic in the Crimeaor 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. SomeWho|date=August 2008 have even claimed that Stalin was also motivated by
anti-Semitismin selecting Birobidzhan: he wanted to keep the Jews as far away from the centers of power as possible.Fact|date=August 2008 On the other hand, it must be said that the Ukrainians and Crimeans were reluctant to have a Jewish national home carved out of their territory, even though most Soviet Jews lived there, and there were very few alternative territories without rival national claims to them.Fact|date=August 2008
By the 1930s, a massive propaganda campaign was underway 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 Depression in the United Statesto make a new life for itself in Birobidzhan.
As the Jewish population grew, so did the impact of
Yiddish cultureon the region. A Yiddish newspaper, the " Birobidzhaner Shtern" ( _ru. Биробиджанер Штерн, _yi. 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 Aleichemand 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. Valdgeymis a Jewish settlement within the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. [http://www.traveleastrussia.com/jewish.html] The settlement was founded in 1928 and was the first collective farmestablished in the oblast. [http://www.swarthmore.edu/Home/News/biro/html/panel13.html] In 1980 a Yiddish school was opened in the settlement. [http://books.google.com/books?id=52Ew77pZsNUC&pg=PA272&lpg=PA272&dq=waldheim+birobidzhan&source=web&ots=59ePnekVgd&sig=WSkb_3rku-AYgt8hqfmgvFIsuiU] Amurzetalso has a historyof Jewishsettlement in the JAO. [http://www.travelpost.com/AS/Russia/Birobijan/Amurzet/1408075] [http://www.travelpost.com/AS/Russia/Birobijan/Amurzet/1408075] [http://www.fjc.ru/news/newsArticle.asp?AID=225680] For the period 1929 through 1939, this village was the center of Jewish settlement south of Birobidzhan. [http://www.fjc.ru/news/newsArticle.asp?AID=170388&cid=84435&media=80392&NewsType=80052&origMedia=80392&scope=3806&start=30] The present day Jewish Communitymembers hold Kabalat Shabbatceremonies 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. [http://www.fjc.ru/news/newsArticle.asp?AID=267005] The population of Amurzet, as estimated in late 2006, is 5,213. [http://population-of.com/en/Russia/89/Amurzet/] Smidovichis another early Jewish settlement in the JAO.
talin 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 IIbrought to an abrupt end concerted efforts to bring Jews east.Curiously, around these decades, some Japanese officials were pushing the Fugu Planto attract Jews to the Japanese vassal state of Manchukuoin the former Chinese part of Manchuria.
There was a slight revival in the Birobidzhan idea after the war as a potential home for Jewish
refugees. During that time, the Jewish population of the region peaked at almost one-third of the total. 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 culture—even the Judaicacollection 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 Tatarsand Volga Germans, forcing them to move thousands of miles from their homes. The Doctors' Plotmay have been the first element of this plan. If so, the plan was aborted by Stalin's death on March 5, 1953.
collapse of the Soviet Unionand new liberal emigration policies, most of the remaining Jewish population left for Germanyand Israel. In 1991, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast was transferred from under the jurisdiction of Khabarovsk Kraito 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 proposed Jewish homeland, the film features scenes of contemporary Birobidzhan and interviews with Jewish residents.
Birobidzhan Jewish National Universityworks in cooperation with the local Jewish community of Birobidzhan. 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. [http://www.eao.ru/eng/?p=365]
In recent years, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast has grown interested in its Jewish roots. Students study
Hebrewand Yiddishat a Jewish school and Birobidzhan Jewish National University. In 1989, the Jewish center founded its Sunday school, where children study Yiddish, learn Jewish folk dances, and memorize dates from the history of Israel. The Israeli government helps fund the program. [http://vn.vladnews.ru/Arch/2000/ISS207/focus.html]
Within Birobidzhan, there are several state-run schools that teach Yiddish, 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. [http://www.kulanu.org/links/birodidzhan.html] Today, the city’s 14 public schools must teach Yiddish and Jewish tradition. The school Menora 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 school’s 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 Birobidzhan’s Pedagogical Institute, one of the only university-level Yiddish courses in the country. [http://www.ncsj.org/AuxPages/091304JTA_Birobid.shtml#0916]
In 2007, "The First Birobidzhan International Summer Program for Yiddish Language and Culture" was launched by Yiddish studies professor
Boris Kotlermanof Bar-Ilan University. [http://www.2all.co.il/web/Sites/yiddishproject/] Yiddish is still the region’s second official language after Russian, although it is spoken only by a handful of the 4,000 remaining Jews. [http://www.jta.org/cgi-bin/iowa/account/new/index.http://www.jta.org/cgi-bin/iowa/news/article/20070814Yiddishprogram.html]
Judaism in the 21st century
In 2004 the Regional Government announced that
Chief Rabbiof Russia Berel Lazarhas agreed to take part in the 70th anniversary celebration for the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. RabbiLazar and Avraham Berkowitz, the Executive Director of the Federation of Jewish Communities CIS will lead a delegation to Birobidjan for the event. Rabbi Mordechai Scheiner, the Chief Rabbi of Birobidjan, Chabad Lubavitchrepresentative to the region, and host of Yiddishkeit said "Today one can enjoy the benefits of the Yiddish culture and not be afraid to return to their Jewish traditions. Its safe without any anti-Semitism and we plan to open the first Jewish day schoolhere".Fact|date=August 2008 It is estimated that at least 3,000 Jews live today in the city. Mordechai Scheiner, an Israeli father of six, has been the rabbi in Birobidzhan for the last five years. The Birobidzhan Synagogueopened in 2004. [ [http://www.fjc.ru/news/newsArticle.asp?AID=166969 Far East Community Prepares for 70th Anniversary of Jewish Autonomous Republic] Federation of Jewish Communities] The Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia estimates the number of Jews in Russiaat about one million, or 0.7 percent of the country's 143 million population. Sheiner says there are 4,000 Jews in Birobidzhan—just over 5 percent of the town's 75,000 population. [ [http://www.fjc.ru/news/newsArticle.asp?AID=525676&cid=84435&NewsType=80052 From Tractors to Torah in Russia's Jewish Land] Jewish Federation of Russia] Governor Nikolay Mikhaylovich Volkovhas stated that he intends to, "support every valuable initiative maintained by our local Jewish organizations." [ [http://www.fjc.ru/news/newsArticle.asp?AID=221939 Governor Voices Support for Growing Far East Jewish Community] Federation of Jewish Communities] In December 2005, the candle-lighting of a HanukkahMenorah in the city's center involved Alexander Vinnikov, who lit the ' shamash' candle and passed it to the Chief Rabbiof the Jewish Autonomous Oblast and Chabad Lubavich representative, Mordechai Scheiner. [ [http://www.fjc.ru/news/newsArticle.asp?AID=342376 Jewish Autonomous Republic Comes Alight at Chanukah] Federation of Jewish Communities] For the Chanukahcelebration of 2007, officials of Birobidzhan in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast claimed to have built the world's largest menorah. [ [http://www.jta.org/cgi-bin/iowa/breaking/105713.html World's largest menorah in Russia?] JTA] Lev Toitman, was the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS Chairmanfor Birobidzhan's 4,500 member Jewish Community until his death on September 11, 2007. [ [http://www.fjc.ru/news/newsArticle.asp?AID=566776&scope=6218&NewsType=80052 Far East Jewish Community Chairman Passes Away] Federation of Jewish Communities]
The economy is based on mining (
gold, tin, iron, and graphite), lumber, limited agriculture, and light manufacturing(mainly textilesand food processing).
Amur Bridge Project
Valery Solomonovich Gurevich, government vice-chairman of Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Oblast said that China and Russia will start construction of the Amur Bridge Projectat the end of 2007. The bridge will link Nizhneleninskoyein the Jewish Autonomous Oblast with Tongjiangin Heilongjiang Province. [ [http://www.timesfirst.com/news_detail.aspx?NewsID=1003 Proposed bridge to boost bilateral trade] Times First] 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. [ [http://www.china.org.cn/english/BAT/214252.htm China-Russia Trade to Top US$40b] China.org] 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. [ [http://en.bcnq.com/bizchina/2007-06/28/content_5421141.htm Cross-border bridge on Heilong River to bring Russia closer] China Daily]
History of the Jews in Russia and Soviet Union
In Search of Happiness"
Jews and Judaism in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast
Boris "Dov" Kaufman
*Shternshis, Anna, "Soviet and Kosher; Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939", Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2006, ISBN 0-253-34726-2.
*Weinberg, Robert, "Stalin's Forgotten Zion; Birobidzhan and the Making of a Soviet Jewish Homeland", University of California Press, Berkeley, 1998, ISBN 0-520-20989-3.
*imdb title|0323008|L'Chayim, Comrade Stalin (2002) en icon
*en icon [http://www.eao.ru/eng/ Official government site] .
*en icon [http://www.traveleastrussia.com/jewish.html Jewish Autonomous Oblast] (Travel East Russia)
*en icon [http://www.swarthmore.edu/Home/News/biro/index2.html Birobidizhan: Stalin's Forgotten Zion]
*ru icon [http://www.archipelag.ru/ru_mir/rm-diaspor/hebrew/biribidzhan/ Birobidzhan: Dream of a Jewish Homeland That Never Came True] by Eve-Maria Stolberg (Russian Archipelago)
* [http://www.archive.org/details/TheJewishAutonomousRegion A 1939 Soviet pamphlet about the JAO]
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