20 April 2007

Birobidzhan: Yiddish culture revival

From the Jerusalem Post, a story on the return of Yiddish to Birobidzhan, the capital of the Jewish Autonomous Region 5,000 east of Moscow created by Stalin in 1934.

The official language was Yiddish and "secular Jewish culture" its focus.

Bar Ilan University professor Dr. Boris Kotlerman of the Rena Costa Center for Yiddish Studies plans to revitalize Yiddish culture in a region that once was home to 50,000 Jews.

More than 70 years and four generations later, the Jewish Autonomous Region, with a population nearing 200,000, has barely 4,000 Jews, many intermarried and most lacking even vague memories of the rich Yiddish culture that once permeated the region.

At the request of the local university, the Birobidzhan Far Eastern State Academy for Humanities and Social Studies, Kotlerman has established the "International Summer Program for Yiddish Language and Culture." The program will bring participants from around the world - applications and interested queries have been received from Japan, France, Germany, the United States and Israel - to study over the summer at a new center established in the Academy's Faculty of Foreign Languages. As part of the new initiative, the Academy is also founding a new research institute for the study of Yiddish language and culture.

Jewish leaders were killed in the mid-1930s and, in 1949, nearly all Yiddish institutions were closed, except for the Birobidzhaner Stern newspaper, which still operates.

The local archives, which should hold immense files of data on its residents, were closed in 1949 and its closure was recently extended for another 25 years.

Read the complete article here.

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