Jewish Autonomous Oblast
|Jewish Autonomous Oblast
Еврейская автономная область (Russian)
|— Autonomous oblast —|
|Federal district||Far Eastern|
|Economic region||Far Eastern|
|Established||May 7, 1934|
|Government (as of July 2014)|
|• Governor||Alexander Levintal|
|• Legislature||Legislative Assembly|
|Area (as of the 2002 Census)|
|• Total||36,000 km2 (14,000 sq mi)|
|Population (2010 Census)|
|• Density||4.9/km2 (13/sq mi)|
|Population (2016 est.)|
|Time zone(s)||VLAT (UTC+10:00)|
The Jewish Autonomous Oblast (Russian: Евре́йская автоно́мная о́бласть, Yevreyskaya avtonomnaya oblast; Yiddish: ייִדישע אװטאָנאָמע געגנט, yidishe avtonome gegnt) is a federal subject of Russia (an autonomous oblast) in the Russian Far East, bordering Khabarovsk Krai and Amur Oblast in Russia and Heilongjiang province in China. Russian Jews are sometimes referred to as "Yevrey". Its administrative center is the town of Birobidzhan. As of the 2010 Census, JAO's population was 176,558 people, or 0.1% of the total population of Russia. Judaism is practiced by only 0.2% of the population of the JAO. Per Article 65 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the JAO is Russia's only autonomous oblast. Aside from Israel, it is the world's only officially Jewish territory.
- 1 Geography
- 2 History
- 2.1 Pre-establishment of the JAO
- 2.2 Jewish settlement in the region
- 2.2.1 Soviet policies with respect to minorities and Jews
- 2.2.2 Establishment of the JAO
- 2.2.3 Attempts to encourage settlement in the JAO
- 2.2.4 Growth of Jewish communities in the early 1930s
- 2.2.5 Stalin's anti-Jewish purges and World War II
- 2.2.6 Cold war
- 2.2.7 Post-breakup of the Soviet Union
- 2.2.8 2013 proposals to merge JAO with neighboring regions
- 3 Administrative divisions
- 4 Economy
- 5 Current demographics
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
The territory has a monsoonal/anti-cyclonic climate, 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.
Pre-establishment of the JAO
Acquisition of the Amur Region by Russia
In 1858, the northern bank of the Amur River, including the territory of today's Jewish Autonomous Oblast, became incorporated into the Russian Empire pursuant to the Treaty of Aigun and Convention of Peking.
In December 1858, the Russian government authorized formation of the Amur Cossacks to protect the southeast boundary of Siberia and communications on the Amur and Ussuri rivers. This military colonization included settlers from Transbaikalia. During 1858–82, many settlements consisting of wooden houses were founded. It is estimated that as much as 40,000 men from the Russian military moved into the region.
Expeditions of scientists including geographers, ethnographers, naturalists, and botanists such as Venyukov, Leopold von Schrenck, Karl Maximovich, Radde, and Vladimir Leontyevich Komarov promoted research in the area.
Construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway
In 1898, construction began on the Trans-Siberian Railway connecting Chita and Vladivostok. The project produced a large influx of new settlers and the foundation of new settlements. Between 1908 and 1912, stations opened at Volochayevka, Obluchye, Bira, Birakan, Londoko, In, and Tikhonkaya. The railway construction finished in October 1916 with the opening of the 2,590-meter (8,500 ft) Khabarovsk Bridge across the Amur at Khabarovsk.
During this time, before the revolution, most local inhabitants were farmers. The only industrial enterprise was the Tungussky timber mill, although gold was mined in the Sutara River, and there were some small railway workshops.
Russian Civil War
Jewish settlement in the region
Soviet policies with respect to minorities and Jews
After the death of Lenin in 1924, Joseph Stalin initially continued such policy and wanted each of the national groups that formed the Soviet Union to receive a territory in which to pursue cultural autonomy in a socialist framework. In such framework, literature and the arts would replace religion as the primary expression of culture. The Soviets envisaged setting up a new "Soviet Zion", where a proletarian Jewish culture could be developed.
The Soviets also wanted to offer an alternative to Zionism, the establishment of Palestine as a Jewish homeland. Socialist Zionists such as Ber Borochov were gaining followers at that time and Zionism was a rival ideology to Marxism among left-wing Jews.
In 1924, the unemployment rate among Jews exceeded 30%, partially as a result of pogroms but also as a result of communism, which prohibited people from being craftspeople and small businessmen. With the goal of getting Jews back to work to be more productive members of society, the government established Komzet, the committee for the agricultural settlement of Jews.
Establishment of the JAO
Originally the plan was to settle the Jews in Ukraine and Crimea. Two Jewish districts (raiony) were formed in Crimea and three in south Ukraine. However, local opposition made the governmental committees look elsewhere.
Birobidzhan, in what is now the JAO, was chosen by the Soviet elite as the site for the Jewish region. The choice of this area was a surprise to Komzet; the area had been chosen for military and economic reasons. This area was often infiltrated by China, while Japan also wanted Russia to lose the provinces of the Soviet Far East. At the time, there were only about 30,000 inhabitants in the area, mostly descendants of Trans-Baikal Cossacks planted there by tsarist authorities, Koreans, Kazakhs, and the Tungusic peoples, a primitive group of tribes. The Russian government wanted to increase settlement in the remote Soviet Far East, especially along the vulnerable border with China.
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 "a possibility of establishment of a Jewish administrative territorial unit on the territory of the called region".
Birobidzhan had a harsh geography and climate: it was mountainous, covered with virgin forests of oak, pine and cedar, and also swamplands, and any new settlers would have to build their lives from scratch. To make colonization more enticing, the Soviet government allowed private land-ownership. This led to many non-Jews settling in the oblast to get a free farm.
In the spring of 1928, 654 Jews arrived to settle in the area; however, by October 1928, 49.7% of them had left because of the severe conditions. In the summer of 1928, there were torrential rains that flooded the crops and an outbreak of anthrax that killed the cattle.
On May 7, 1934, the Presidium of the General Executive Committee accepted the decree on its transformation into 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.
Attempts to encourage settlement in the JAO
By the 1930s, a massive propaganda campaign developed to induce more Jewish settlers to move there. The campaign partly incorporated the standard Soviet propaganda tools of the era and included posters and Yiddish-language novels describing a socialist utopia there. 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 made a new life for itself in Birobidzhan.
Growth of Jewish communities in the early 1930s
Early Jewish settlements included Valdgeym, dating from 1928, which included the first collective farm established in the oblast., Amurzet, which was the center of Jewish settlement south of Birobidzhan from 1929 to 1939, and Smidovich.
By 1930, there were 3 Jewish schools in 9 settlements. By 1932, the State Planning Committee ratified the first estimated figures of the economic plan of the Birobidjan region as a separate economic unit.[by whom?]
The Organization for Jewish Colonisation in the Soviet Union, a Jewish Communist organization in North America, successfully encouraged the immigration of some US residents, such as the family of spy George Koval, which arrived in 1932. Some 1,200 non-Soviet Jews chose to settle in Birobidzhan.
As the Jewish population grew, so did the impact of Yiddish culture on the region. Settlers established a Yiddish newspaper, the Birobidzhaner Shtern; a theater troupe was created; and streets being built in the new city were named after prominent Yiddish authors such as Sholom Aleichem and I. L. Peretz.
Stalin's anti-Jewish purges and World War II
In 1936, only 2 years after the JAO was founded, Stalin targeted Jews living in the JAO in purges.
The Jewish population of JAO reached a pre-war peak of 20,000 in 1937.
After the war ended in 1945, there was renewed interest in the idea of Birobidzhan as a potential home for Jewish refugees. The Jewish population in the region peaked at around 46,000-50,000 Jews in 1948, around 25% of the entire population of the JAO.
The census of 1959 found that the Jewish population of the JAO had declined by approximately 50%, down to 14,269 persons.
A synagogue opened at the end of World War II but closed in the mid 1960s after a fire left it severely damaged.
According to the 1989 Soviet Census, there were 8,887 Jews living in the JAO, or 4% of the total JAO population of 214,085.
Post-breakup of the Soviet Union
In 1991, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast moved from the jurisdiction of Khabarovsk Krai to the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation. However, by that time, most of the Jews had emigrated from the Soviet Union and the remaining Jews constituted fewer than 2% of the local population.
According to an article published in 2000, Birobidzhan has 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.
As of 2002, 2,357 Jews were living in the JAO.
In 2002, L'Chayim, Comrade Stalin!, a documentary on Stalin's creation of the Jewish Autonomous Region and its settlement, was released by The Cinema Guild. 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.
A 2004 article stated that the number of Jews in the region "was now growing".
An April 2007 article in The Jerusalem Post claimed that, at the time, approximately 4,000 Jews remained in the JAO. The article cited Mordechai Scheiner, the Chief Rabbi of the JAO from 2002 to 2011, who said that, at the time the article was published, Jewish culture was enjoying a religious and cultural resurgence.
By 2010, according to data provided by the Russian Census Bureau, there were only approximately 1,600 people of Jewish descent remaining in the JAO (1% of the total population), while ethnic Russians made up 92.7% of the JAO population.
According to an article published in 2010, Yiddish is the language of instruction in only one of Birobidzhan's 14 public schools. Two schools, representing a quarter of the city's students, offer compulsory Yiddish classes for children aged 6 to 10.
According to a 2012 article, "only a very small minority, mostly seniors, speak Yiddish", a new Chabad-sponsored synagogue opened at 14a Sholom-Aleichem Street, and The Amur State University named for Sholom Aleichem offers a Yiddish course.
2013 proposals to merge JAO with neighboring regions
In 2013, there were proposals to merge JAO with Khabarovsk Krai or with Amur Oblast. The proposals were objected to by residents, as well as the Jewish community of Russia, and led to protests. There are also questions on whether a merger would be allowed pursuant to the Constitution of Russia and whether a merger would require a national referendum. Citizens of the JAO almost all oppose such a merger, yet citizens of neighboring oblasts generally support the prospect of a merger.
The Jewish Autonomous Oblast is part of the Far Eastern Economic Region; it has well-developed industry and agriculture and a dense transportation network. Its status as a free economic zone increases the opportunities for economic development. The oblast's rich mineral and building and finishing material resources are in great demand on the Russian market. Nonferrous metallurgy, engineering, metalworking, and the building material, forest, woodworking, light, and food industries are the most highly developed industrial sectors.
Agriculture is the Jewish Autonomous Oblast's main economic sector owing to fertile soils and a moist climate.
The region's well-developed transportation network consists of 530 km of railways, including the Trans-Siberian Railway; 600 km of waterways along the Amur and Tunguska rivers; and 1900 km of roads, including 1600 km of paved roads. The most important road is the Khabarovsk-Birobidzhan-Obluchye-Amur Region highway with ferry service across the Amur. The Birobidzhan Yuzhniy Airfield, in the center of the region, connects Birobidzhan with Khabarovsk and outlying district centers.
Amur Bridge Project
The Amur Bridge is a 19.9 km long, $355 million, bridge under construction that will link Nizhneleninskoye in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast with Tongjiang in the Heilongjiang Province of China. The bridge is expected to open in October 2019 and is expected to transport more than 3 million metric tons of cargo and 1.5 million passengers per year.
The 2010 Census reported the largest group to be the 160,185 ethnic Russians (92.7%), followed by 4,871 ethnic Ukrainians (2.8%), and 1,628 ethnic Jews (1%). Additionally, 3,832 people were registered from administrative databases, and could not declare an ethnicity. It is estimated that the proportion of ethnicities in this group is the same as that of the declared group.
- Vital statistics for 2012
- Births: 2 445 (14.0 per 1000)
- Deaths: 2 636 (15.1 per 1000) 
Total fertility rate:
2009 - 1.67 | 2010 - 1.67 | 2011 - 1.79 | 2012 - 1.84 | 2013 - 1.86 | 2014 - 1.95 | 2015 - 2.02
Although it is taught in 3 schools in the region, there are almost no Yiddish speakers remaining.
According to a 2012 official survey 22.6% of the population of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast adhere to Russian Orthodoxy, 6% are Orthodox Christians of other church jurisdictions or Orthodox believers who aren't members of any church, and 9% are unaffiliated or generic Christians. Judaism is practiced by 0.2% of the population. In addition, 35% of the population identify as "spiritual but not religious", 22% profess atheism, and 5.2% follow other religions or declined to answer the question.
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- History of the Jews in the Soviet Union
- In Search of Happiness
- History of the Jews in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast
- List of Chairmen of the Legislative Assembly of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast
- East Asian Jews
- Proposals for a Jewish state
- Far Eastern Railway (of former Baikal-Amur (BAM) project)
- Конкурс на гимн Еврейской АО не состоялся из-за низкого уровня представленных работ (The competition for anthem of the Jewish Autonomous Region did not take place because of the low level of the works)
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jewish Autonomous Oblast.|
- Official website of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast
- Stalin's Forgotten Zion: Birobidzhan and the Making of a Soviet Jewish Homeland: An Illustrated History, 1928-1996
- Official website of the new musical "Soviet Zion" set in Birobidzhan
- (Russian) Birobidzhan: Dream of a Jewish Homeland That Never Came True by Eve-Maria Stolberg (Russian Archipelago)
- A 1939 Soviet pamphlet about the JAO
- Meeting of the Frontiers: The Birobidzhan Album (1920's-1930's photographs of Birobidzhan)
||Amur Oblast||Khabarovsk Krai||Khabarovsk Krai|
|Heilongjiang, China||Khabarovsk Krai|
|Heilongjiang, China||Heilongjiang, China||Heilongjiang, China|