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  • First settlers of the railway station Tihonkaya ("Silent") renamed later into Birobidzhan | Photo credit JAFI
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Jewish homeland promised by the UN – First Home Update June 2019

Orly Vohlstein - 11 June 2019

What if instead of following the prophecy and the gathering in of Israel, Jews would go somewhere else… let’s say to the Far East…. and try to build a Jewish State there? Indeed, history has records of such attempts, some of them even on the international level. A unique story about that is the story of the Jews from Birobidzhan.

First settlers of the railway station Tihonkaya (“Silent”) renamed later into Birobidzhan

The Soviet plan of creating a homeland for Jews in Birobidzhan on the Trans-Siberian railway near the Chinese-Russian border in Siberia seemed to be such a great idea. It consisted of shipping 100,000 Jews off to create an autonomous nation within the union of Soviet nations under the rule of comrade Stalin. It was a great plan to get rid of Jewish prominent politicians and scientists in the Soviet Union and send them off to the far Chinese border. At the same time, thousands of Jews desperately yearning for a homeland accepted this idea with great enthusiasm. Many of them moved of their own volition away from other parts of the USSR, but also from the USA, Canada and Argentina to make their dream come true for a homeland, after having lived in the diaspora for centuries.

The first map of the Jewish Autonomous District with the center in Birobidzhan and the two rivers: Bira and Bidzhan.

To this very day Yiddish is an official language here, it is taught at schools and at the University. There is also a newspaper “Birobidzhaner Stern” published in two languages: Russian and Yiddish.

The majority of the Jewish population left this land just after the fall of the “Iron Curtain” in 1991, but some are still here, in the far Taiga forests on the eastern border of the Russian Federation.

That is why the Jewish Agency of Israel (JAFI) and Ofek Israeli organised an aliyah seminar in Birobidzhan. Traveling 11,000 kilometres during two flights and a seven hour time difference – that is what I had to go through to see with my own eyes the miraculous Jewish Autonomous District and its capital Birobidzhan. In my family it was told by my grandparents in Ukraine that they were about to be sent off to the Chinese border, the trains were already prepared and the neighbours were discussing who would take what from their belongings, but then Stalin died (exactly on Purim, the 5th of March 1953) and the plan was never fulfilled. Otherwise maybe I would be born in Birobidzhan.

This long trip was definitely worth it! So many Jewish people that only now have got a chance to reveal their Jewish identity. Lev from Birobidzhan, 22 years old, applied for the seminar just out of curiosity to discover during the seminar  that his grandfather was a prominent rabbi. Alina from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk had to take a flight together with her daughter to get to the seminar. This city of  Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is located on Sakhalin Island, near the Japanese border, and there is no other way to get off the island except by plane. Distances here on the other side of the globe are generally quite a challenge. People had to travel hundreds of kilometres in order to be able to hear us telling about the Land of Israel.

I explained them about the First Home in the Homeland, the absorption program that would be happy to welcome them in Israel. The idea of kibbutzim is very familiar to these people. Their grandfathers and grandmothers, exactly as the kibbutz pioneers, arrived to a far land to develop it and to make it Home. The important difference is 11,000 kilometres and G-ds blessing for the Promised Land.

Thank you for your support of aliyah, this miracle that goes on right now in front of our eyes!

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 43:5-6)

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