Birobidzhan Yiddish program starts


A three-week Yiddish program began this week in the Russian Far East.

The summer program in Birobidzhan that started Monday has drawn instructors and participants from around the world. It was created by Yiddish studies professor Boris Kotlerman of Bar-Ilan University in Israel at the behest of the Birobidzhan Far Eastern State Academy for Humanities and Social Studies.

Classes are taking place at a new center in the academy’s department of foreign languages, which has an active Yiddish language program where virtually all the teachers and students are non-Jews.

The academy is also establishing a new research institute for the study of Yiddish language and culture. Its rector recently visited Bar-Ilan University to discuss an exchange program.

Birobidzhan is the capital of the Jewish Autonomous Republic, created in 1934 by former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin as an alternative Jewish homeland. Yiddish is still the region’s second official language after Russian, although it is spoken only by a handful of the 4,000 remaining Jews.

In its heyday in the 1930s, the region was home to 50,000 Jews from Russia, Europe and the United States. Stalinist purges decimated their ranks, and by 1949 the grand experiment was over.

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