You are here

Building Zion in Stalin’s Russia

Building Zion in Stalin’s Russia

Sunday, November 15, 2015

In 1934, a Jewish autonomous region was established in Birobidzhan (sometimes spelled Biro-Bidjan), Siberia. This Jewish region was put in place as part of a Soviet policy that encouraged ethnic groups to contribute to the building of socialism by settling their own territory (or oblast) with their own language and culture. Yiddish was declared the official language of the Jewish Oblast and a proletariat secular culture was bolstered.

Dr. Jeffrey Veidlinger offered an exploration of Birobidzhan as well as other potential homelands proposed in the Soviet Union. The talk explained why Stalin sought to establish a Jewish homeland near the Chinese border, and how the project fit into Stalin’s larger policies toward Soviet Jews. He also discussed how the establishment of the State of Israel complicated the purported role of Birobidzhan as a Jewish homeland.

Dr. Jeffrey VeidlingerJeffrey Veidlinger is the Joseph Brodsky Collegiate Professor of History and Judaic Studies and Director of the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. Veidlinger is the author of a number of award-winning books including,The Moscow State Yiddish Theater: Jewish Culture on the Soviet StageJewish Public Culture in the Late Russian Empire, and most recently, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine.

Image at left

From Despair to New Hope, Ceil Rosenberg. From the portfolio A Gift to Birobidzhan: Chicago Artists in Support of a Jewish Homeland in Siberia, Published by L.M. Stein, Chicago, 1937, Spertus Institute Collection, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Iker.

In 1937, twelve Chicago artists contributed to a portfolio of works created to raise funds for the Jewish settlement in Birobidzhan. The works in the portfolio ranged from stylistic images of shtetl life to stark representations of Depression-era poverty. Spertus Institute is fortunate to have a rare, complete copy of the folio in our collection. It will be on display September 13, 2015 though January 3, 2016.

Sponsors and Partners

JUF Logo Blue

JUF News is the media sponsor
of One Book | One Community.

NSS Beth El

North Suburban Synagogue Beth El 
is our One Book | One Community
synagogue partner.

JUF Russian Jewish Division

Association for Jewish Studies
This was the 2015 Horwitz Family Lecture in Jewish History, generously endowed by the Horwitz Charitable Fund. It is presented with the AJS.