Russia's Jewish Autonomous Oblast (Russian: Евре́йская автоно́мная о́бласть, eev-RAY-skuh-yuh ahf-tah-NOHM-nuh-yuh OH-blust') is a region in the Russian Far East, which borders Amur Oblast to the west, Khabarovsk Krai to the north, and China to the south. Along with Israel, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast is one of two Jewish regions in the world.
- 1 Birobidzhan – the Jewish Oblast's sole city and principal destination
- 2 Kuldur – hot springs resort
- 3 Obluchye
Although it's one of the two Jewish regions (the other being Israel) in the world, Jews comprise less than 1% of the total population and it is Russia's sole autonomous oblast. During the USSR, Joseph Stalin established the province in an attempt to boost the overall population in the Far East, counter Zionism (as it was ideologically inconsistent with the political beliefs of the Soviets), and create a place where Jewish culture and the Yiddish language could grow and flourish.
However, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast is a project that failed to ever really take off, and this can still be felt to this day. Many of the region's Jewish residents have since emigrated to other places (particularly Israel) in search of a better life.
Despite this all, many of the region's residents and the Jewish community of Russia routinely oppose attempts to partition it and/or merge it with a neighboring region.
Potential visitors should definitely try to get a hold of the documentary film released in 2002, L'Chayim, Comrade Stalin, about the history and modern times of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast.
Although Yiddish is taught widely, you're unlikely to encounter it unless you visit a synagogue, listen to Yiddish radio, read a Yiddish newspaper, or study in one of the region's schools/universities. The older generation is typically more proficient in Yiddish than their juniors.
Ethnic Russians constitute 90% of the population, which means that Russian is more useful than Yiddish.
As in the rest of Russia, English is not widely spoken, and you will most likely be spoken to in Russian and/or Yiddish.