Yiddish in Birobidzhan


Birobidzhan – Coordinates: 48°47′N 132°56′E


It is estimated that estimates the number of Jews in Russia still are about one million, or 0.7 percent of the country’s 143 million population. Birobidzhan is a town and the administrative centre 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. It was granted urban-type settlement status in 1928 and town status in 1937.

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 the 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 Amur River. Visitors find the town surprisingly green. The chief economic activity is light industry.

According to Rabbi Mordechai Scheiner, the Chief Rabbi of Birobidzhan and Chabad Lubavitch representative to the region, one can enjoy the benefits of the Yiddish culture and not be afraid to return to their Jewish traditions without any anti-Semitism. 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. Rabbi Mordechai Sheiner is of the opinion that Jewish life is reviving, both in quantity and quality. 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. Half the city council use to be Jewish.

Jewish culture was revived in Birobidzhan much earlier than elsewhere in the Soviet Union. Yiddish theatres 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. 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 named after the Yiddish language author and humorist Sholom Aleichem. For the Chanukah celebration the Jewish Autonomous Oblast built the world’s largest chanukia in 2007. It was approximately 61 metres tall – larger than its counterpart in New York, which is only about 10 metres tall.

The Birobidzhan Jewish National 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 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. Today, the city’s 14 public schools must teach Yiddish and Jewish tradition.

SOURCE: Itar Tass and Wikipedia

One comment

  1. I would love to come visit. Do the Synagogues and community centers have email addresses as I cannot find them online

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