Subbotnik Jew receives Israeli citizenship after decade-long wait

Subbotnik Jew receives Israeli citizenship after decade-long wait

Tuesday, August 22, 2017 is a date that Tamara Sobyleva will never forget. That’s the day she received her teudat zehut – her Israeli identification card – ending a decade-long process that has been both joyous and bittersweet for the 57-year-old former resident of Vysoki, Russia.

Joyous – because Tamara is finally an Israeli citizen, after years of being stuck in bureaucratic limbo when Israel closed the gates of aliyah to the Subbotnik Jewish community, of which Tamara is a member.

Bittersweet – because Tamara’s mother – who received citizenship before her daughter and was able to live in Israel – passed away a few years before Tamara finally moved to the Jewish State.

In the early 19th century, under the rule of Czar Alexander I, thousands of mostly Russian peasants in the town of Vysoki converted to Judaism. Many studied in some of the great yeshivas of Lithuania, while thousands more immigrated to Israel during the “2nd Aliyah” in the early 1900s. The name “Subbotnik” comes from their love of the “Subbota,” Russian for Sabbath.

Tamara first applied to make aliyah in 2005 but was refused. She began to learn with Shavei Israel’s emissary to the Subbotnik Jewish community, Rabbi Zelig Avrasin. She attended classes and community events in Vysoki, and eventually converted in the rabbinical court of Moscow’s Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt.

She waited another year before applying for Israeli citizenship and then… nothing.

There was no answer from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior.

“Every time Tamara would call, no one could provide her with any definite information,” Esther Surikova, head of Shavei Israel’s Russian and Eastern Europe department, says. “They would say, ‘please call again in a few weeks.’”

Two years passed and Tamara, frustrated, flew to Jerusalem on her own. She hoped that being more local would help open the hearts of recalcitrant Interior Minister officials.

She was right. A half year later, following many interviews, she finally received the documents she had coveted for so many years. She was an Israeli citizen!

That last gasp trip to Jerusalem was spurred in part by a tragic change in Tamara’s family circumstances. Her mother, Sarah Matveev, had already been living in Israel for some time. But on a visit to Russia to see her daughter, Sarah passed away.

But that only made Tamara more determined than ever.

Tamara, who is divorced, has two children still living in Russia. Will they convert and make aliyah too? Tamara prays that the answer will be yes.

In the meantime, we have a picture of a very proud Tamara holding her teudat zehut.