Monocolumn: Russian Jewish Town Welcomes Investments From China

Monocolumn: Russian Jewish Town Welcomes Investments From China

In today's column from luxury magazine, Monocle, we learn about the autonomous Jewish town of Birobidzhan and how it is looking forward to a better future with the help of Chinese investments.

Caroline Ku
  • 26 july 2011

Monocolumn is Monocle’s daily bulletin of news and opinion. Catch up with previous editions here.

The highlight of the specials on the menu at Fanza, a restaurant in Birobidzhan, the capital of Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region is wild boar. Hardly kosher but it’s very popular with the locals, most of whom aren’t Jewish.

The civic sculptures of Stars of David and Hebrew writing on the walls of the local government mask the fact that there are hardly any Jews left in the homeland Stalin established for Russia’s Jewish population in 1928, in a remote corner of Siberia near the border with China.

Of a current population of 185,000 only 4,300 identify themselves on census papers as Jewish. Albina Sergeva, an organiser at the local Jewish Community Centre, says there are 5,000 practising Jews at the town’s synagogue.

“We set up this centre in 1997 when the economic situation here was really bad. Around 10,000 Jews left in the 1990s for a better life in Israel or Germany,” she explains.

In the early 1930s, when the town of Birobidzhan was established, the entire population of the Oblast region, an area the size of Belgium along the China-Russia border, was only 32,000, leaving it open to infiltration by Chinese settlers or colonisation by the Japanese who later took over Manchuria across the border with China, according to Zvi Gitelman in his history on Jews in the Soviet Union.

The Jewish population reached a zenith of around 50,000 in the early 1940s but was decimated by the Second World War.

Now the area’s biggest hope for attracting back those who have fled its harsh winters and unforgiving forests is Chinese investment.

“If you have economic success and development then people will come back to the Far East of Russia to settle here, attracted by the region’s social and economic opportunities,” said Shergin Sergey Grigorievich, an engineer who moved here from the Urals in central Russia to manage an iron processing plant.

Hungry for Russia’s natural resources, Chinese banks have lent money for an iron ore mine, cement plants, wood processing plants and soya bean processors around Birobidzhan providing jobs for graduates from the local universities.

One such graduate is Tanya Ivanova, a 22-year-old who now works as a translator at the K&S iron ore mine. Her parents emigrated to Israel in 1997 but returned after a year after finding that it was not the promised land.

“They thought that life would be easier there but it was even harder than here. It’s very difficult to make something of yourself in Israel if you aren’t highly skilled.”

Her family returned to run a small café in town while she studied Chinese.

“China is our neighbour and there are a lot of opportunities for people who speak Chinese,” she says.

Asked if she speaks Hebrew, she shakes her head. She has forgotten and is now looking East for her future.

Rachel Morarjee is a regular Monocle contributor.

Image via Grant Slater.

To continue reading, click here.



Volvo's Self-Driving Trucks Will Soon Be Put To Work In An Underground Mine

Automotive Today

Toyota Is Using Sewage To Power Its New Electric Car

A new hydrogen-fueled vehicle is driven by what we flush away

Culture Today

Catch A Concert On This Small Floating Island

A man-made archipelago in Italy is hosting music and art performances


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Retail: Technology Primer

See All
Design & Architecture Today

DIY Kit Lets You Build Your Own Wooden Bike, Boat Or Caravan

Woodenwidget says its detailed guides are suitable for beginners and experienced woodworkers alike

Related Expert

Yael Maguire

Connectivity, Accessibility, Wireless Technology

Design Today

Crash-Friendly Drone Made From LEGOs Is Completely Rebuildable

The clever device offers games, education and the uniquely rewarding experience of destroying your high-flying airship

Fitness / Sport Today

Free Sneakers Given Out To Motivated Marathon Runners

Strava will give the shoes to athletes who run the second half of their race faster than the first

Culture Today

Someone Invented A Robot Just To Serve Trays Of Beef Jerky

Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz, in partnership with Chef's Cut Real Jerky, creates an automated snack delivery system


Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry

PSFK Op-Ed Yesterday

Energy Expert: How American Consumers Are Taking Control Of Their Power Use

Jennifer Tuohy, green tech expert at The Home Depot, discusses green home technologies and developments for renewable technologies in US homes

PSFK Labs Today

The 10 Steps To Discover, Hire, Develop Your Next Leader

PSFK's Future of Work report outlines key steps in the employee development path to empower next-gen leaders

Millennials Today

Why A Social Networking Site Decided To Rebrand

Meetup, a platform that connects like-minded individuals, has taken steps to stay relevant amongst millennials

Work Today

Editorial Roundtable: The People-First Workplace Should Borrow From Tradition

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary, AltSchool and thinkPARALLAX underline the old-fashioned ideas that deserve a place in the Future of Work

Op-Ed Today

Digital Design Expert: Mobile First Is Dead, Think Mobile Native

Brian Cooper, chief creative officer of OLIVER Group UK, explains how some brands are still playing catch-up to new technology

Fashion Today

Handbags Crafted From An Old NFL Stadium

People for Urban Progress is an up-cycling program that tackles the waste problem of big demolitions

Work Today

Tech Job Site Created Just For Those Who Are Older Than 30

A new occupational job board presents a creative solution to age discrimination in the tech world


Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders

Europe Today

Architect Turns A Giant Smile Into A Public Exhibition

The structure offers visitors a new perspective of London and creates an immersive environment that integrates structure, surface, space and light

Children Today

Norwegian Kids Are Using Their Phones To Log Unsafe Street Conditions

Travel Agent is an app that gamifies the reporting of hazardous conditions to improve the safety of children's commute to school

Travel Today

Google Wants To Help You Plan Your Next Trip

A new app curates vacation itineraries and organizes reservation emails to take the work out of planning a getaway

No search results found.