- Press Release -
Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Israel's High Court of Justice to Convene Tomorrow

to Rule on Fate of Russia's 20,000 Subbotnik Jews

 A petition filed by Shavei Israel on behalf of the community

challenges the Israeli government's new policy

of preventing Subbotnik Jews from making aliyah


Israel's Supreme Court will convene this Thursday, November 27, 2008, at 09:00 AM, in order to rule on petition no. 5682/07 filed against Israel's Interior Minister and the Head of the Population Registry regarding the government's recently-adopted policy of preventing Subbotnik Jews from making aliyah. The petitioners (represented by attorney Professor Michael Corinaldi) are the Shavei Israel organization and Mrs. Lubov Gonchareva, a Subbotnik Jewess from the village of Vysoky, in Russia, and her husband.  


An estimated 20,000 Subbotnik Jews currently live in the former Soviet Union. Over the past decade, prior to Israel's inexplicable change in policy, a large number made aliyah, especially from the villages of Ilyinka and Vysoky, and many of them now live in Beit Shemesh outside of Jerusalem.


The saga of the Subbotnik Jews began over two centuries ago, when a group of Russian peasants decided to convert to Judaism.  They were forced to pay an extremely heavy price for their choice, including their forced expulsion by Czar Alexander I to the far reaches of the empire. Starting with the period of the First Aliyah more than a century ago, thousands of them moved to Israel and quickly found their niche in the heart of the pioneering efforts to settle the Land. Their descendants include prominent figures such as former IDF Chief of Staff Rafael ("Raful") Eitan, former Israel Police District Commander Alec Ron, and of course the legendary Alexander Zaid, who established the Hashomer Jewish self-defense organization.


Gonchareva's case is a particularly painful example of the Israeli bureaucracy's current callousness vis-à-vis the Subbotnik Jews. Gonchareva is a 48-year old resident of the southern Russian village of Vysoky and the mother of three children.  Her parents, both of them Subbotnik Jews, immigrated to Israel several years ago, were registered as Jews by the Interior Ministry, and her mother obtained a ruling from the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court attesting to her Jewishness. Nevertheless, four years ago, when Gonchareva herself submitted an application to immigrate to Israel along with her husband and children, her request was denied on the grounds that her husband was not Jewish and therefore she had "lost" the right to move to Israel, even though her parents were living in Beit Shemesh at the time, as Jews and Israelis. "I was born a Jew and I live as a Jew, as do my children," Gonchareva said recently as tears welled up in her eyes. "The State recognized my parents as Jews, so how can it now do such a thing to me and to my children?"


In the words of Michael Freund, chairman and founder of "Shavei Israel" and the man behind the petition to the High Court of Justice: "In recent years, the government of Israel has been placing many obstacles in the path of Subbotnik Jews who wished to immigrate to Israel, and earlier this year it halted their immigration altogether after casting doubt on their Jewishness. The Subbotniks survived Czarist persecution and Communist oppression and many were murdered by the Nazis - all because they stubbornly clung to the faith of Israel.  The government's policy must change. We can not turn our backs on the remnants of this very special community, particularly after all that they have endured," said Freund. "Otherwise, they will assimilate and disappear as Jews, and for that history would never forgive us."

About "Shavei Israel"

Shavei Israel is a non-profit organization founded by Michael Freund, who immigrated to Israel from the United States, with the aim of strengthening ties between the State of Israel and the descendants of Jews around the world. The organization is currently active in nine countries and provides assistance to a variety of different communities such as the Bnei Menashe of India, the Bnai Anousim in Spain, Portugal and South America, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, the Jewish community of Kaifeng in China, the "Hidden Jews" of Poland from the Holocaust era and others.

For more information visit: www.shavei.org

Attached are pictures from Russian village of Vysoky.

Credit: Courtesy of Michael Freund. No need for payment


For further details contact: Arik Puder at ArikPuder@gmail.com or +972-52-582-0820

Subbotnik sefarim in Vysoky Russia