FOR 15 years, hundreds of Subbotnik Jews in the village of Vysoky in southern Russia have been languishing in limbo, anxiously awaiting the opportunity to make aliya and be reunited with their loved ones in Israel, writes MICHAEL FREUND.
Although untold numbers moved to Israel over the past century, inexplicable bureaucratic hurdles arose in the early 2000s and their immigration has been stalled ever since.
With a new Israeli government in place, the time has come to remove the obstacles in their path and save Russia’s Subbotnik Jews before it is too late.
The origins of the Subbotnik Jews go back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries when Judaising sects arose in southern Russia. The movement spread rapidly and grew to tens of thousands.
While remaining Christians, many adherents took on some Jewish practices, such as observing the “Subbot,” or Sabbath, on Saturdays, leading them to be referred to as “Subbotniks”.
Among them, however, was a small group that left behind the Russian Orthodox faith and underwent conversion to Judaism. Referring to themselves as the “Gerim” — using the Hebrew word for converts — they began to practise Judaism openly, which in Tsarist Russia was no small feat.
The Subbotnik Jews observed Jewish law, married Russian Ashkenazi Jews in the city of Voronezh, and some sent their children to study in yeshivot in Lithuania and the Ukraine.
Tsar Alexander issued a series of cruel decrees against the Subbotnik Jews, which included kidnapping their children and deportation to the far reaches of eastern Siberia.
Over time, many migrated back, settling again in southern Russia or Ukraine.
Michael Freund is chairman of Shavei Israel, which assists lost tribes and other far-flung Jewish communities to return to the Jewish people
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