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Mongolia Virtual Jewish History Tour

[By: Joanna Sloame]

Mongolia, located in eastern central Asia and landlocked between Russia and China, is home to only a handful of Jews. At the end of the 19th century, trade between

Siberian-Jewish merchants and Mongolians resulted in a few Jewish families settling on the border. By 1920, a small Jewish community had been founded in Outer Mongolia, made up of businessmen and their families, political prisoners, and Russian Jews fleeing persecution and civil war. The community was virtually wiped out by by 1921, the Russian anti-Bolshevik forces retreating into Mongolia after being defeated in Central Asia.

In 1925-6, a Russian-Jewish journalist came across a community of 50 newly settled families in a remote region of Outer Mongolia approximately 200 miles from the Manchurian border. In 1926, Ulan Bator (formerly Urga), the capital of the Mongolian People's Republic, maintained a community of 600 Russian Jews who left Outer Mongolia due to increased Soviet influence. Most fled to Manchuria, and those who remained were government workers.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a number of Jewish Mongols left the country in search of better economic opportunities. Some moved to Israel due to its visa-free agreement with Mongolia. Hundreds of Israeli tourists also visit Mongolia each summer, and the majority of permanent Jewish residents in the country are Israeli businessmen or other foreign aid workers. The Jewish community numbers less than 100. The closest Jewish community with a rabbi is the Siberian city of Irkutsk, whose Chief Rabbi Aharon Wagner wants to maintain close contact and provide support for the neighboring Mongolian Jewish community.

In July 2017, the Israeli Population and Immigration Authority reported a strange uptick in the number of Mongolians applying for asylum in Israel.  Between January and July 2017, 190 Mongolian tourists visited Israel.  Of those, 50 applied for asylum claiming that they are fleeing personal persecution as members of a political opposition party in Mongolia.  

Sources: Federation of Jewish Communities in the CIS;
Kesher Talk;
Itamar Eichner.  Israel faces surge in Mongolian asylum requests, YNet News, (July 18, 2017).