Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Russians Are Coming! Subbotnik Converts Are Making Aliya

Khudera, Russian proselytes (Library of Congress, circa 1906).
Today, the Library of Congress caption reads, "Identified
by researcher as Russian converts to Judaism (Subbotniki)"
Israeli news announced this week that the aliya (immigration) of Russian "Subbotniks" will resume. 

Identified and trained by the Shavei Israel organization, the Subbotniks are descendants of a group of Russian Christians who assumed a Jewish lifestyle 200 years ago.  They were persecuted by the Czars, Communists and Nazis.

The following feature appeared in Israel Daily Picture two years ago. 

The Library of Congress' American Colony photo collection is full of mysterious pictures, some of which have been presented on these pages.  Here's one, captioned "Khudera, Russian Proselytes," with the date listed as "between 1898 and 1934." Who or what is "Khudera?" 

In the 19th century, a Christian sect in Russia kept Saturday as their day of Sabbath, thus earning the name "Subbotniks." They read the Old Testament and had a loose identification with Judaism.

Yoav Dubrovin (Dubrovin Farm Museum)
In the late 1800s, two emissaries from Eretz Yisrael (one, Meir Dizengoff, would become mayor of Tel Aviv) traveled to Europe to encourage Jews to move to the land of Israel.  In Kovno they encountered a successful Subbotnik farmer named Dubrovin who peppered them with questions about the Bible and about farming and weather conditions in the Galilee.  The respected sage of Kovno, Rabbi Yitzhak Elchanan Spektor, had befriended Dubrovin and after several years converted Dubrovin, now named Yoav, and his family to Judaism.

In 1903, Dubrovin moved to the land of Israel with his family of 13.  In 1909, he established a very successful farm in Yesod HaMa'aleh in the upper Galilee.

So who are the "Russian Proselytes of Khudera?" 

According to Yoav Dubrovin's biography, the family lived in Hadera before purchasing their farm in Yesod HaMa'aleh.  Elsewhere in the Library of Congress collection there is reference to Jewish towns "Jewish coastal colonies: Herzlia, Ranana, Nathania, Khudeira. Herzlia" -- apparently what we call and spell as "Hadera."

The mystery photo is likely a Dubrovin family portrait (minus Yoav who was in his 70s at this time) and was probably taken around 1906. Yoav Dubrovin lived to the age of 104.

Yoav Dubrovin's son donated the farm to the Jewish National Fund in 1968, and today the farm house has been restored and is the centerpiece of the Dubrovin Farm Museum.

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