Before Israel, the Jewish People Had a Socialist Utopia — in Siberia
The Jews have another Israel. It's in Siberia - and it was their first official home.
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
Since the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 AD and their subsequent banishment from Palestine, the Jews had been without a national home until the founding of Israel in 1948. Right? Wrong.
The Soviets beat the Zionists by a few decades, and organised a Jewish Autonomous Region, improbably located on the Russian-Chinese border beyond Mongolia. Even more improbably, that region’s ‘Jewish’ status has survived stalinism, wars, deprivation and the fall of communism. But few Jews still reside in what was once billed as a future judeo-socialist utopia. Birobidzhan’s history remains, as one of the more bizarre footnotes in the struggle for a Jewish homeland.
“The Soviet solution of the national question is strikingly illustrated by the way the problems of the Jewish people have been dealt with in the Soviet Union,” writes D. Bergelson in ‘The Jewish Autonomous Region’, a English-language pamphlet published in Moscow in 1939, entirely written in socialist utopian mode. It describes how Jews, formerly oppressed by the Czarist regime, are now flourishing in the egalitarian Soviet Union:
“Jewish fliers took part in the historic expedition to the North Pole. Thousands of Jews operate machines in factories and mills. In the city of Gorky (formerly Nizhni-Novgorod), in which Jews were not allowed to live in the times of tsardom) there are about eight thousand Jewish workers employed in the automobile works alone. Among the prominent Stakhanovite workers we find many Jews like Blidman, Khenkin, Yussim and others, whose names are known all over the country. Jewish Red Armymen who took part in the battles at Lake Hassan were among those decorated by the Soviet Government for their heroism and devotion. Jewish names are among those of the Heroes of the Soviet Union, as well as among those of the Deputies to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and the Supreme Soviets of the Union Republics.”
One of the peculiarities of Soviet-style communism was the reality of having to deal with over 100 nationalities on the territory of the former Russian Empire. Not long after the 1917 Revolution, Moscow granted all of them a maximum of cultural and territorial autonomy (at least on paper). For the Jews, who had been a people without a country for 19 centuries, this was an unprecedented opportunity: “In addition to securing the Jews full equality, the Soviet Government has set aside a large district — Birobidjan — as a Jewish national territory. The Jews have thus acquired their statehood in the Soviet Union — the Jewish Autonomous Region, which is a unique and a most momentous development in the history of the Jewish people as a whole.”
The Jewish Autonomous Oblast (in Yiddish: Yidishe Avtonome Gegnt) was created in 1934 within the framework of Stalin’s nationality policy, centered on the town of Birobidzhan, along the Trans-Siberian Railway, close to Khabarovsk. The settlement of the area (by Russians), under way from the middle of the 19th century, was greatly speeded up by the Trans-Siberian Railway (completed in 1916). The creation of the JAO was meant to counter both Zionism and (religious) Judaism by creating an atheist, Soviet version of Zion, and further to settle the still sparsely populated Siberian lands bordering China.
A more cynical view of the genesis and location of the JAO is that it would make it possible to deport the Soviet Union’s entire Jewish population to one of the remotest corners of the country. Initially, Jewish pioneers were lured to Birobidzhan by a concerted propaganda effort, ranging from posters and pamphlets to movies and books – one movie told the story of American Jews escaping the Depression to start over in the Jewish utopia.
As the number of settlers grew, Jewish culture in the region blossomed. Valdgeym, Amurzet and other Jewish settlements were established, the Yiddish-language newspaper Birobidzhaner Stern (‘Star of Birobidzhan’) was founded. But the growth of the JAO was cut short by Stalin’s purges before and after the Second World War, and by the war itself. The purges even led to the burning of the entire Judaica collection in Birobidzhan’s local library. In the decades following the war, many Birobidzhan Jews chose to emigrate; in 2002, Jews constituted less than 2% of the region’s 200,000 inhabitants (90% Russian, 4% Ukrainian).
Bizarrely, this has not prevented a Jewish renaissance of sorts: Yiddish is once again taught in Birobidzhan’s schools, there are Yiddish-language radio and tv programmes and the aforementioned Birobidzhaner Stern continues to publish a section in Yiddish. A new synagogue was opened in 2004, and there is a Jewish National University. There are extensive links between the region and Israel, which is the home country of Mordechai Scheiner, the JAO’s chief rabbi from 2002 to 2011. The rabbi is optimistic about the future of Yiddishkeit in Birobidzhan: “Today one can enjoy the benefits of the Yiddish culture and not be afraid to return to their Jewish traditions (…) Jewish life is reviving, both in quantity as in quality.”
Strange Maps #333
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We all know sleeping with your ex is a bad idea, or is it?
- In the first study of its kind, researchers have found sex with an ex didn't prevent people from getting over their relationship.
- Instead of feeling worse about their breakup after a hookup, the new singles who attempted sexual contact with their ex reported feeling better afterwards.
- The findings suggest that not every piece of relationship advice is to be taken at face value.
Want a happy, satisfying relationship? Psychologists say the best way is to learn to take a joke.
- New research looks at how partners' attitudes toward humor affects the overall quality of a relationship.
- Out of the three basic types of people, people who love to be laughed at made for better partners.
- Fine-tuning your sense of humor might be the secret to a healthy, happy, and committed relationship.
Tiny and efficient, these biodegradable single cells show promise as a way to target hard-to-reach cancers.
- Scientists in Germany have found a potential improvement on the idea of bacteria delivering medicine.
- This kind of microtargeting could be useful in cancer treatments.
- The microswimmers are biodegradable and easy to produce.
Metin Sitti and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute in Germany recently demonstrated that tiny drugs could be attached to individual algae cells and that those algae cells could then be directed through body-like fluid by a magnetic field.
The results were recently published in Advanced Materials, and the paper as a whole offers up a striking portrait of precision and usefulness, perhaps loosely comparable in overall quality to recent work done by The Yale Quantum Institute. It begins by noting that medicine has been attached to bacteria cells before, but bacteria can multiply and end up causing more harm than good.
A potential solution to the problem seems to have been found in an algal cell: the intended object of delivery is given a different electrical charge than the algal cell, which helps attach the object to the cell. The movement of the algae was then tested in 2D and 3D. (The study calls this cell a 'microswimmer.') It would later be found that "3D mean swimming speed of the algal microswimmers increased more than twofold compared to their 2D mean swimming speed." The study continues —
More interestingly, 3D mean swimming speed of the algal microswimmers in the presence of a uniform magnetic field in the x-direction was approximately threefolds higher than their 2D mean swimming speed.
After the 2D and 3D speed of the algal was examined, it was then tested in something made to approximate human fluid, including what they call 'human tubal fluid' (think of the fallopian tubes), plasma, and blood. They then moved to test the compatibility of the microswimmer with cervical cancer cells, ovarian cancer cells, and healthy cells. They found that the microswimmer didn't follow the path of bacteria cells and create something toxic.
The next logical steps from the study include testing this inside a living organism in order to assess the safety of the procedure. Potential future research could include examining how effective this method of drug delivery could be in targeting "diseases in deep body locations," as in, the reproductive and gastrointestinal tracts.
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