First ‘Subbotnik’, a Russian Tribe Who Converted over 200 Years Ago, Makes Aliyah

Receive me back, let me return, For You, Hashem, are my God. Jeremiah 31:17 (The Israel Bible™)

JERUSALEM, July 14 — After nearly three years of battling Israeli bureaucracy with the help of Shavei Israel, Anna Bocharnikova, 71, of the Russian village of Vysoki, was finally granted Israeli citizenship this past week.
Bocharnikova belongs to the Subbotnik Jewish community of southern Russia, whose more than 600 remaining members are descendants of Russian peasants who converted to Judaism two centuries ago and endured terrible persecution and anti-Semitism for choosing to join the Jewish people. The Subbotnik Jews should not be confused with the “Subbotniks,” a separate group of Russian Christians who chose to observe the Sabbath on Saturdays.
Bocharnikova is the first Subbotnik Jew to be allowed to make Aliya since 2016 and just the seventh to have done so in the past five years. Prior to 2005, hundreds of Subbotnik Jews from Vysoky moved to the Jewish state, while thousands from other parts of the former Soviet Union came during the great wave of Russian immigration which took place during the 1990s. All of them were recognized as Jews and integrated fully into Israeli society.
But fourteen years ago, Israeli officials abruptly and inexplicably halted the Subbotnik Jewish Aliya, casting doubt on their Jewishness. The moved caused great hardship to the Subbotnik Jews by dividing families. The result was that hundreds of Subbotnik Jews in Vysoky, and thousands more in other communities throughout Russia, found themselves left behind.
“We are grateful that Anna has finally been granted Israeli citizenship and can live out the rest of her days with her family in Israel,” said Shavei Israel founder and Chairman Michael Freund. “But the treatment meted out to Subbotnik Jews by the Israeli bureaucracy is simply inexcusable,” he said, adding, “The Subbotnik Jews are an integral part of the Jewish people and there is no reason why it should be so difficult for them to make Aliyah. I call upon the Prime Minister and the Israeli government to take immediate action to bring home the remaining Subbotnik Jews. Israel must act. The Subbotnik Jews courageously clung to their Jewishness for two centuries, surviving Czarist oppression, Nazi persecution and Soviet tyranny. We owe it to them and to their forefathers to cut the red tape and enable them to come home to Jerusalem forthwith.”
Prior to coming to Israel, Bocharnikova was a community leader in Vysoki and opened her house for Torah classes, which were given by Shavei Israel emissary Rabbi Shlomo Zelig Avrasin during his visits to the village, before a new synagogue was built. She studied with Rabbi Avrasin, and formally returned to Judaism in 2012 under the auspices of Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow. Upon completing her conversion, Bocharnikova applied for Israeli citizenship in Moscow. Two years later, she still had not received a reply, so she came to Israel anyway, where with help from Shavei Israel, she submitted a second application for citizenship. After a wait of more than nine months, her request was finally approved.
“I want to thank Shavei Israel and its Chairman, Michael Freund, for their help,” Bocharnikova said, adding, “I want to see my grandchildren and great-grandchildren here in Israel maintain our Jewish traditions because they were given to us by G-d. I believe in G-d and I came to Israel to stay here forever.”
Please see the accompanying photos of Anna Bocharnikova (right) with Tova Filchagova (left), an Israeli Subbotnik Jew, after Anna received her new Israeli citizenship card last week. Photo credit: Esther Surikova, courtesy of Shavei Israel.