Stalins designated Jewish area may drop Jewish from name

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MOSCOW — The Jewish Autonomous Region of Birobidzhan may soon drop the word "Jewish" from its official name because so few Jews are left in the area.

The region's name may be changed since it has "lost its meaning," according to Birobidzhan's official daily newspaper, Birobidzhanskaya Zvezda, or Birobidzhan Star.

Jews constitute a small minority among the population of the area, located in the Russian Far East.

The percentage of Jews emigrating from the region to Israel and other countries is one of the highest in Russia.

During the last eight years, 8,600 Jews left Birobidzhan for Israel, and hundreds of others emigrated to Germany and the United States.

The region's Jewish population is now estimated to be about 5,000 out of a total population of 200,000.

It was not until this week that local officials and the government press began discussing the idea of renaming the region.

The area adjacent to the Russian-Chinese border, which became a destination for Jewish immigration in 1928, was officially designated the Jewish Autonomous Region by Stalin in 1934.

It was long touted by Soviet authorities as a place where Jewish life could flourish in the Soviet era. Indeed, some pre-World War II Jewish communists declared the area the Soviet alternative to Palestine.

The town of Birobidzhan has two government-supported Jewish day schools.

Earlier this year, the head of Birobidzhan's regional administration said he was committed to creating a favorable climate for the local Jewish community.

Nikolai Volkov said at the time that he was seeking the support of Russian Jewish businessmen who could sponsor the construction of a new Jewish community center in Birobidzhan that would house the region's first-ever synagogue.