Birobidjan is a pleasant green city located on the Far East of Russia 180 km west of the city of Khabarovsk. It is not a big city, but it has an interesting history (see below). The territory of the city lying between Bira and Bijan rivers is about 36 thousand sq. km. Population of the city is about 90 000 people.
The swampy territory where the city stands now was opened for settlement in 1927. At that time the Soviet authorities conceived the idea of a homeland for Jews in a border region of the Far East. About 43 thousand Jews, mainly from Belarus and Ukraine, but also from the USA, Argentina and even Palestine settled in the region. Because of the rather unfavorable climate and low temperatures which sometimes fall to –40 C, only about a third of people who moved there stayed.
Despite being proclaimed the Jewish Autonomous Region in 1934, the anti-Semitism and persecutions of later Soviet years killed off the project. All Jewish institutes, including synagogues, were shut down and the use of Hebrew was banned.
Since 1991 and the establishment of diplomatic ties between Russia and Israel, there has been a further outpouring of Jews. Today the population of Jews in the city accounts for about 7% of the total population. There are many Jewish institutions in the town now, including synagogues and cultural centers.
The City Today
The population of the city now is about 90,000 people. It is not a big city, but quite green and leafy. The city’s main streets run east to west parallel to Bira River and the train line. The main axis is the Sholom-Aleykhema street.
The main post and telephone offices are located at the Prospect 60 let Oktyabria, 14. Internet access is also available there.
It may be quite difficult to get a ticket to long-distance train to Birobijan. It is easier to take the twice-daily suburban trains from Khabarovsk.
Places to See
Regional Museum is located Lenina str. 25. The museum is open 9a.m.-1 p.m. and 2 p.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. One may like to see the stuffed Siberian tiger and a room devoted to the Jewish history of the region there.
Another quite interesting place is Freid (‘happiness’ in Yiddish), a Jewish community center. It is located Sholom-Aleykhem str.,