Rahul Sharma (Editor)


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Town Day  Last Saturday of May
Area  169.4 km²
Country  Russia
Local time  Friday 2:56 AM
Birobidzhan russiatrekorgimagesphotobirobidzhanrussiacit

Federal subject  Jewish Autonomous Oblast
Administratively subordinated to  town of oblast significance of Birobidzhan
Administrative center of  Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Birobidzhansky District, town of oblast significance of Birobidzhan
Urban okrug  Birobidzhan Urban Okrug
Weather  -23°C, Wind NW at 8 km/h, 68% Humidity
University  Sholem Aleichem Amur State University

Birobidzhan story

Birobidzhan (Russian: Биробиджан; [bʲɪrəbʲɪˈdʑan]; Yiddish: ביראָבידזשאַן‎, Birobidzshan) is a town and the administrative center of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Russia, located on the Trans-Siberian Railway, close to the border with China. Population: 75,413 (2010 Census); 77,250 (2002 Census); 83,667 (1989 Census).


Map of Birobidzhan, Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Russia


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. The city was planned by the Swiss architect Hannes Meyer, and established in 1931. It became the administrative center of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in 1934 and town status was granted to it in 1937.

Yiddish writer David Bergelson played a large part in promoting Birobidzhan, although he himself did not really live there. Bergelson wrote articles in the Yiddish language newspapers in other countries extolling the region as an ideal escape from anti-Semitism elsewhere. At least 1,000 families from the United States and Latin America came to Birobidzhan because of Bergelson.

Life in could be quite hard in the mountainous region. In her book on the region, Where the Jews Aren't: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia's Jewish Autonomous Region, Masha Gessen writes that

in the summer of 1928 there were torrential rains, causing flooding that washed out what little the new settlers had managed to plant, stymied by the late arrival of seeds. Their cattle arrive late too, and were felled by an anthrax epidemic that raged that first year. The settlers at Birofeld, though they managed to put up eighteen houses over the summer, faced a cold winter of relentless hunger, surrounded by their ruined fields and foreboding woods, where tiger and bears roamed.

When the Stalinist purges began shortly after the creation of Birobidzhan, Jews there were likewise targeted. ″Jews in Birobidzhan are targeted, and they're targeted in this very Soviet way specifically for what they came there for - for nationalism, for promoting the Yiddish language, for what they were told was a good thing just a couple of years earlier,″ explained Gessen in an interview discussing her book.

Following World War II, tens of thousands of displaced Eastern European Jews found their way to Birobidzhan from 1946 to 1948. Some were Ukrainian and Belarussian Jews who were not allowed to return to their original homes.

However, Jews were once again targeted in the wake of World War II when Joseph Stalin embarked on a campaign against ″rootless cosmopolitans″ — a code name for Jews. Nearly all the Yiddish institutions of Birobidzhan were liquidated. Amongst those executed was David Bergelson, Birobidzhan's early promoter, who was killed in 1952 on his 68th birthday.

Birobidzhan is the administrative center of the autonomous oblast and, within the framework of administrative divisions, it also serves as the administrative center of Birobidzhansky District, even though it is not a part of it. As an administrative division, it is incorporated separately as the town of oblast significance of Birobidzhan — an administrative unit with the status equal to that of the districts. As a municipal division, the town of oblast significance of Birobidzhan is incorporated as Birobidzhan Urban Okrug.

Jewish and Yiddish culture

While thousands of Jews migrated to Birobidzhan, the hardship and isolation caused few to stay. Shortly after the war, the Jewish population in the region reached its peak of about 30,000. As of the mid-2010s, only about 2000 Jews remain in the region, about one half of one percent of the population.

According to Rabbi Mordechai Scheiner, the former 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, was the rabbi in Birobidzhan. He also hosted the Russian television show, Yiddishkeit. His student, actually born in Birobidzhan, Rabbi Eliyahu Reiss, has taken over the reins since 2010.

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 population of 75,000. 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 town's main street is named after the Yiddish language author and humorist Sholom Aleichem.

For the Chanukah celebration of 2007, officials of Birobidzhan in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast claimed to have built the world's largest Menorah.


The chief economic activity is light industry.


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. 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 is also offered at Birobidzhan’s Pedagogical Institute, one of the only university-level Yiddish courses in the country. Today, the town's fourteen public schools must teach Yiddish and Jewish tradition.


Birobidzhan experiences a monsoonal humid continental climate (Köppen climate classification Dwb) with very cold, dry winters and warm, very wet summers.


The bandy club Nadezhda plays in the 2nd highest division, the Russian Bandy Supreme League. There are talks about building an indoor arena.

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 2002. 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.

Twin towns and sister cities

Birobidzhan is twinned with:

  • Beaverton, Oregon, United States
  • Hegang, Heilongjiang, China
  • Ma'alot-Tarshiha, Israel
  • Niigata, Japan
  • References

    Birobidzhan Wikipedia