The Jewish Autonomous Oblast (JAO; Russian: Евре́йская автоно́мная о́бласть, Yevreyskaya avtonomnaya oblast; Yiddish: ייִדישע אװטאָנאָמע געגנט, yidishe avtonome Gegnt) is a federal subject of Russia in the Russian Far East, bordering Khabarovsk Krai and Amur Oblast in Russia and Heilongjiang province in China. Its administrative center is the town of Birobidzhan.
At its height in the late 1940s, the Jewish population in the region peaked at around 46,000–50,000, around 25% of the entire population. As of the 2010 Census, JAO's population was 176,558 people, or 0.1% of the total population of Russia. By 2010, according to data provided by the Russian Census Bureau, there were only 1,628 Jews remaining in the JAO (less than 1% of the population), while ethnic Russians made up 92.7% of the JAO population. Judaism is practiced by only 0.2% of the population of the JAO.
Jewish Autonomous Oblast
|Еврейская автономная область|
|Federal district||Far Eastern|
|Economic region||Far Eastern|
|Established||May 7, 1934|
|• Body||Legislative Assembly|
|• Governor||Alexander Levintal|
|• Total||36,000 km2 (14,000 sq mi)|
| • Estimate |
|• Density||4.9/km2 (13/sq mi)|
|ISO 3166 code||RU-YEV|
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 (1858) and the Convention of Peking (1860).
In December 1858 the Russian government authorized the formation of the Amur Cossack Host to protect the south-east boundary of Siberia and communications on the Amur and Ussuri rivers. This military colonization included settlers from Transbaikalia. Between 1858 and 1882 many settlements consisting of wooden houses were founded. It is estimated that as many as 40,000 men from the Russian military moved into the region.
Expeditions of scientists, including geographers, ethnographers, naturalists, and botanists such as Mikhail Ivanovich Venyukov (1832–1901), Leopold von Schrenck, Karl Maximovich, Gustav Radde (1831–1903), and Vladimir Leontyevich Komarov promoted research in the area.
In 1899, construction began on the regional section of 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-metre (8,500 ft) Khabarovsk Bridge across the Amur at Khabarovsk.
During this time, before the 1917 revolutions, 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.
In 1924, the unemployment rate among Jews exceeded 30%, partially as a result of pogroms but also as a result of the policies of the USSR, 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. The Soviet government entertained the idea of resettling all Jews in the USSR in a designated territory where they would be able to pursue a lifestyle that was "socialist in content and national in form". 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. The location that was initially considered in the early 1920s was Crimea, which already had a significant Jewish population Two Jewish districts (raiony) were formed in Crimea and three in south Ukraine. However, an alternative scheme, perceived as more advantageous, was put into practice.
Eventually, Birobidzhan, in what is now the JAO, was chosen by the Soviet leadership 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 resettled there by tsarist authorities, Koreans, Kazakhs, and the Tungusic peoples. The Soviet government wanted to increase settlement in the remote Soviet Far East, especially along the vulnerable border with China. General Pavel Sudoplatov writes about the government's rationale behind picking the area in the Far East: ″The establishment of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in Birobidzhan in 1928 was ordered by Stalin only as an effort to strengthen the Far Eastern border region with an outpost, not as a favour to the Jews. The area was constantly penetrated by Chinese and White Russian terrorist groups, and the idea was to shield the territory by establishing a settlement whose inhabitants would be hostile to White Russian émigrés, especially the Cossacks. The status of this region was defined shrewdly as an autonomous district, not an autonomous republic, which meant that no local legislature, high court, or government post of ministerial rank was permitted. It was an autonomous area, but a bare frontier, not a political center.″
On 28 March 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 7 May 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.
By the 1930s, a massive campaign developed to entice more Jewish settlers to move there. The campaign partly incorporated the standard Soviet promotional 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.
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 three Jewish schools in nine 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.
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. The settlers established a Yiddish newspaper, the Birobidzhaner Shtern; a theatre 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.
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. However, in 1948, Stalin's anti-Jewish purges made living in the JAO unappealing. Jews were no longer able to get jobs or attend graduate school.
The census of 1959 found that the Jewish population of the JAO had declined by approximately 50%, down to 14,269 persons.
A synagogue was opened at the end of World War II, but it 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.
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 the Jewish population had grown to about 4000. 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 93% 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 Sholem Aleichem Amur State University offers a Yiddish course.
A November 2017 article in The Guardian, titled, "Revival of a Soviet Zion: Birobidzhan celebrates its Jewish heritage", examined the current status of the city and suggested that, even though the Jewish Autonomous Region in Russia’s far east is now barely 1% Jewish, officials hope to woo back people who left after Soviet collapse.
In 2013, there were proposals to merge the JAO with Khabarovsk Krai or with Amur Oblast. The proposals led to protests, and were rejected by residents, as well as the Jewish community of Russia. There were also questions as to whether a merger would be allowed pursuant to the Constitution of Russia and whether a merger would require a national referendum.
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.
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 largest companies in the region include Kimkano - Sutarsky Mining and Processing Plant (with revenues of $116.56 million in 2017), Teploozersky Cement Plant ($29.14 million) and Brider Trading House ($24 million).
The region's well-developed transportation network consists of 530 km (330 mi) of railways, including the Trans-Siberian Railway; 600 km (370 mi) of waterways along the Amur and Tunguska rivers; and 1,900 km (1,200 mi) of roads, including 1,600 km (1,000 mi) 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.
The Amur Bridge is a 19.9 km (12.4 mi) 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 tonnes (3.3 million short tons; 3.0 million long tons) of cargo and 1.5 million passengers per year.
The 2010 Census reported the largest group to be the 160,185 ethnic Russians (93%), followed by 4,871 ethnic Ukrainians (3%), 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.
Total fertility rate:
2009 – 1.67 | 2010 – 1.67 | 2011 – 1.79 | 2012 – 1.84 | 2013 – 1.86 | 2014 – 1.95 | 2015 – 2.02 | 2016 – 1.96(e)
Yiddish is taught in three of the region's schools, but the community is almost exclusively Russian-speaking.
According to a 2012 survey 23% 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 only 0.2% of the population. In addition, 35% of the population identify as "spiritual but not religious", 22% profess atheism, and 5% follow other religions or declined to answer the question.
JAO and its history have been portrayed in the award-winning documentary film, L'Chayim, Comrade Stalin!. The film tells the story of Stalin's creation of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast and its partial settlement by thousands of Russian- and Yiddish-speaking Jews and 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.
Cities and towns under autonomous oblast's jurisdiction:
Birobidzhan (Биробиджан) (administrative center)
with 6 rural okrugs under the district's jurisdiction.
with 5 rural okrugs under the district's jurisdiction.
Towns under the district's jurisdiction:
Urban-type settlements under the district's jurisdiction:
Kuldur resort settlement (Кульдур)
with 2 rural okrugs under the district's jurisdiction.
with 3 rural okrugs under the district's jurisdiction.
Urban-type settlements under the district's jurisdiction:
with 2 rural okrugs under the district's jurisdiction.Bastak Nature Reserve
Bastak Nature Reserve (Russian: Бастак заповедник) (also Bastack) is a Russian 'zapovednik' (strict nature reserve) located in the Amur River basin in the Russian Far East. The reserve's territory covers the south-eastern spurs Bureinsky Ridge and the northern outskirts of the Sredneamurskaya lowlands. The reserve is situated in about 10 km north of the city of Birobidzhan in the Birobidzhansky District, and is the only national reserve in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast.Bira, Russia
Bira (Russian: Бира) is an urban locality (an urban-type settlement) in Obluchensky District of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Russia. Population: 3,167 (2010 Census); 4,311 (2002 Census); 4,111 (1989 Census).Birobidzhan
Birobidzhan (Russian: Биробиджа́н, IPA: [bʲɪrəbʲɪˈdʐan]; Yiddish: ביראָבידזשאַן, Birobidzshan) is a town and the administrative center of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Russia, located on the Trans-Siberian Railway, near the China-Russia border. As of the 2010 Census, its population is 75,413, and the national language is Yiddish. Birobidzhan is named after the two largest rivers in the autonomous oblast: the Bira and the Bidzhan. The Bira, which lies to the east of the Bidzhan Valley, flows through the town. Both rivers are tributaries of the Amur.Birobidzhaner Shtern
The Birobidzhaner Shtern (Yiddish: ביראָבידזשאנער שטערן; Russian: Биробиджанер Штерн Birobidžaner Štern; "The Birobidzhan Star") is a newspaper published in both Yiddish and Russian in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast of Russia. It was set up in November 1930 in Birobidzhan to cater for the newly arrived Jewish immigrants. Henekh Kazakevich was first editor of the newspaper. Emmanuil Kazakevich was an author and staff member of the newspaper in 1935-1938. The Jewish Autonomous Oblast had been set up by the Soviet government in an attempt to resolve the Jewish Question and provide an alternative to the Zionist Jewish experience offered by Israel. The paper also has the advantage of the arrival of Mordechai Scheiner, a Yiddish speaker and the new Chief Rabbi for the Jewish Autonomous Oblast and head of the Birobidzhan Synagogue,  and additional Jewish settlements such as Valdgeym. Birobidzhansky District
Birobidzhansky District (Russian: Биробиджа́нский райо́н) is an administrative and municipal district (raion), one of the five in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Russia. It is located in the center of the autonomous oblast. The area of the district is 4,442.56 square kilometers (1,715.28 sq mi). Its administrative center is the town of Birobidzhan (which is not administratively a part of the district). Population: 11,907 (2010 Census); 13,018 (2002 Census); 15,437 (1989 Census).Directorate for Internal Affairs (Jewish Autonomous Oblast)
Directorate for Internal Affairs of Jewish Autonomous Oblast (Управление Министерство внутренних дел по Еврейской автономной области) is the official name of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast's Police. Established shortly after the formation of Jewish Autonomous Oblast in 1930. The headquarters is located in Birobidzhan.Subordinated directly to the Russian Interior Ministry and the Governor of Jewish Autonomous Oblast. Current chief of police is Vasiliy Oleynick (Since June 2005).Flag of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast
The Jewish Autonomous Oblast is situated in the Far Eastern Federal District of Russia.
Its flag consists of a rainbow on a white background, with seven narrow horizontal colored stripes: red, orange, yellow, green, sky blue, blue and purple. The number of colors is meant to symbolize the seven-branched Jewish Menorah. The flag's aspect ratio is 2:3.
The seven colored stripes are centered vertically and regularly spaced; they have a height each equal to 1⁄40 of the total flag's height, and are separated by a thin spacing equal to 1⁄120 of the total flag's height.The rainbow flag design was adopted during October 1996.Governor of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast
The Governor of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast (Губернатор Еврейской автономной области) is the head of executive branch for the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, considered as Prime Minister of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast.
The office of Governor is an elected position, for which elected officials serve four year terms. While individual politicians may serve as many terms as they can be elected to, Governors cannot be elected to more than two consecutive terms.
The official residence for the Governor is located in Birobidzhan. The current Governor is Alexander Levintal, who acting office on February 24, 2015.History of the Jews in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast
The history of the Jews in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast (JAO), Russia, began with the early settlements of 1928.
Yiddish, along with Russian, are the two official languages in the JAO.Legislative Assembly of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast
Legislative Assembly of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast (Russian: Законодательное собрание Еврейской автономной области) is the unicameral regional parliament of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, a federal subject of Russia.Leninsky District, Jewish Autonomous Oblast
Leninsky District (Russian: Ле́нинский райо́н) is an administrative and municipal district (raion), one of the five in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Russia. It is located in the south and center of the autonomous oblast. The area of the district is 6,068 square kilometers (2,343 sq mi). Its administrative center is the rural locality (a selo) of Leninskoye. Population: 20,684 (2010 Census); 22,844 (2002 Census); 28,464 (1989 Census). The population of Leninskoye accounts for 29.5% of the district's total population.Lesser Khingan
Lesser Khingan (Chinese: 小兴安岭; pinyin: Xiǎo Xīng'ān Lǐng; Russian: Малый Хинган, Maly Khingan) is a mountain range in China's Heilongjiang Province and the adjacent parts of Russia's Amur Oblast and Jewish Autonomous Oblast.
In China, the Khingan mountains are divided into the Greater Khingan and Lesser Khingan. The Lesser Khingan range runs roughly from the northwest to the southeast and separates the valley of the Amur (Heilongjiang) River from that of the Nenjiang River. The mountain range then turns toward the east and north-east, entering Russia. The Amur/Heilongjiang, which is a border river, forms a gorge when crossing the mountain range.
In Russia, the range is part of the Khingan Nature Reserve.Mordechai Scheiner
Mordechai Sheiner (Hebrew: מרדכי שיינר; Russian: Мордеха́й Шейнер) is an Israeli Orthodox rabbi associated with the Chabad Hasidic movement. Sheiner served as Chief Rabbi of Jewish Autonomous Oblast from 2002 to 2011.Nikolayevka, Jewish Autonomous Oblast
Nikolayevka is an urban locality (an urban-type settlement) in Smidovichsky District of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Russia. Population: 7,912 (2010 Census); 7,650 (2002 Census); 8,188 (1989 Census).Obluchye, Jewish Autonomous Oblast
Obluchye (Russian: Облу́чье, Yiddish: אָבלוטשיע) is a town and the administrative center of Obluchensky District in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Russia, located on the Amur River, 159 kilometers (99 mi) west of Birobidzhan, the administrative center of the autonomous oblast. Population: 9,379 (2010 Census); 11,069 (2002 Census); 12,016 (1989 Census).Oktyabrsky District, Jewish Autonomous Oblast
Oktyabrsky District (Russian: Октя́брьский райо́н) is an administrative and municipal district (raion), one of the five in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Russia. It is located in the west and southwest of the autonomous oblast. The area of the district is 6,400 square kilometers (2,500 sq mi). Its administrative center is the rural locality (a selo) of Amurzet. Population: 11,354 (2010 Census); 13,095 (2002 Census); 15,599 (1989 Census). The population of Amurzet accounts for 44.5% of the district's total population.Smidovich
Smidovich (Russian: Смидович) is an urban locality (an urban-type settlement) and the administrative center of Smidovichsky District of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Russia. Population: 5,120 (2010 Census); 5,905 (2002 Census); 6,646 (1989 Census).Valery Solomonovich Gurevich
Valery Solomonovich Gurevich, a Russian politician,  is the vice-governor of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast.
Administrative divisions of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast