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What’s east of Siberia? The Jewish Autonomous Region, of course!12:42 pm Tuesday, November 24, 2009
by stacey palevsky
I had no idea Jews ever lived east of Siberia (okay, actually, I had no idea anyone lived east of Siberia given that the term has an end-of-the-earth-like connotation). I began reading about the history of this part of the world, known as the Jewish Autonomous Region, in a Slate Dispatches article published this week.
This Far East town not too far from the China border is called Birobidzhan, and though it has a Chabad and a synagogue and a Jewish Museum, there are very few Jews living a religious life today.
The reporter, Masha Gessen, will be reporting from Birobidzhan all week, and her writing is clever, blunt and detailed.
The history of the place is something like this: After Russian Jews endured starvation and high unemployment in western Russia, not to mention an effective propoganda campaign, 41,000 Soviet Jews relocated to Birobidzhan in the late 1920s and '30s. By 1938, 28,000 had fled due to the unbearable conditions:harsh winters, swamply land and nonexistant roads or communication infrastructure.
Gessen writes that settlers trickled in — never more than 10,000 per year — and many turned back within months of arriving. Two waves of purges in 1937 and 1949 decimated the Jewish population there.
Today, "the Jewish Autonomous Region retains its ethnic identity today (it never had much of a religious character), but, bizarrely, a search for Jewish history in Birobidzhan is much like an attempt to locate Jewish history in a European city: a tour of the invisible," Gessen writes.Permalink Leave a comment Spread the Word E-mail a friend
Tags: Russia, Siberia, Jewish, Stalin, Autonomous Region, Slate.com
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