Last week, following close to three years of fighting the Israeli bureaucracy—with help from the Shavei Israel organization—Anna Bocharnikova, 71, from the Russian village of Vysoki, was granted Israeli citizenship. Bocharnikova is part of the 600-strong Subbotnik Jewish community in southern Russia, whose members descend from Russian peasants who converted to Judaism.
“Subbotniks” is a common name for Russian sects of Christians who observe Shabbat as their day of rest, based on the Ten Commandments. According to Velvl Chermin, writing for the Stanford Berman Jewish Policy Archive, they split into two streams: Subbotnik converts to Rabbinic Judaism, and Karaite Subbotniks who reject Talmudic law.
According to a press release issued by Shavei Israel, an Israeli-based Jewish organization that encourages people of Jewish descent to strengthen their connection with Israel and the Jewish people, founded by Michael Freund, Israeli officials 14 years ago suspended the Subbotnik Aliya, casting doubt on their Jewishness.
“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 Freund. “But the treatment meted out to Subbotnik Jews by the Israeli bureaucracy is simply inexcusable.”
According to Freund, “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,” Freund said.
Bocharnikova was a community leader in Vysoki and hosted in her home Torah classes by Shavei Israel emissary Rabbi Shlomo Zelig Avrasin. She converted to Judaism in 2012 under the auspices of Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow.
Bocharnikova applied for Israeli citizenship in Moscow, but when Two years later she had not received a reply, she came to Israel anyway, with help from Shavei Israel. She submitted a second application and nine months later her request was approved.