Optimism here is fueled by booming agricultural and raw material exports to neighboring China. But the Jewish revival is still fragile.
Boris Kotlerman, a professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, ran a Yiddish summer program for scholars here for two years, before it petered out last summer. "The Jewish republic has a good potential for a real revival, but the authorities are keeping the status quo.... They're not really interested in pushing it forward," Kotlerman said by phone from Israel. In recent years, Russia has sought to fold its ethnic-minority regions into larger, Russian-dominated ones.
Still, Roman Leder, the head of the Jewish community here, says 80 families left last year but another 120 arrived. He adds that more would return if they had money. "A decade ago I would have told you that this was a failed experiment, but not anymore. The Jewish revival is obvious. In the future we may even become the world center for Yiddish, who knows?"
In the early days before Stalin turned on the community, Jews arrived from around the world to build their own version of a worker's paradise and share Yiddish, the now vanishing blend of Hebrew and German that uses Hebrew characters and was once spoken by millions of European Jews.