Copy of From Russia to Israel: A story of Subbotniks, aliyah and love
The story of the Katz family characterizes the history of Vissoky Jews and the way in which the Subbotnik community was involved in the lives of the other neighboring Jews in the area.
The Subbotniks were peasants in southern Russia who embraced Jewish practice and converted to Judaism more than 200 years ago under the Czarist regime. They were referred to by the term “Subbotniks” because of their love of the Subbota, which is Russian for Sabbath.
In the early 19th century, Czar Alexander I expelled them from their homes and deported them to the far reaches of the empire as punishment for their adoption of Judaism. They were later ruthlessly persecuted by the Communists, and thousands of them were murdered by the Germans after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in World War II.
There are still an estimated 15,000 Subbotnik Jews living primarily in southern Russia and in Siberia, most of whom wish to return to the traditions of their ancestors and emigrate to Israel.
In the Great Synagogue of Voronezh, the district capital of the village of Vissoky, Jews come from all the neighborhoods of the city and nearby cities. Rabbis and heads of the local community for generations did not distinguish whether it was Ashkenazi Jews or Jews belonging to the Subotnik community. Thus, both in the prayers and in the social activities of the city’s synagogue or in other Jewish organizations, the expatriates of the village of Vissoky also take an active part.
When about 15 years ago, the Jewish Agency for Israel opened a Hebrew language course in the city of Voronezh, Yevgeny Katz, a son of a local Jewish family, enrolled among the first and met another diligent student there – Svetlana, who had recently moved to the city of Voronezh from the village of Vissoky to go to university.
A romantic relationship developed between the two and after a time they were married and since then have had 2 children – a daughter, Kira and a son, Lev. The whole time they were both active in the Jewish community of Voronezh and the topic of moving to Israel was constantly in the air, but Svetlana did not feel at peace with the fact that if they were to immigrate to Israel, the official right for citizenship would only be given to her as ‘the wife of her Jewish husband’, and not because she was the daughter of a Jewish community.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2022, when the Vissoky immigrants received an official permit to immigrate, that the family began to prepare for the move. At that time, they did not feel the need for immediate aliyah, but started preparations when their strategic plan was for aliyah within a year.
But fate changed the cards for them, as for many others.
In the middle of September 2022, Russia started mass recruitment, so Yevgeny felt this was a sign that the time had come. It soon became clear that all flight tickets were sold and only very expensive tickets were left that would have cost several times the normal cost and these were not direct flights either. There are cheaper ways to cross the border, but by land.
With a number of friends and acquaintances, he joined a convoy of cars whose intention was to cross the border between Russia and Georgia.
Due to these circumstances, he separated from Svetlana his wife and children, and on September 27 he took a train to the city of Krasnodar and from there he joined the car with which they started the journey. After several hours of driving closer to the border, they reached the end of the line, which included hundreds, probably even thousands of cars lined up with one goal – to escape from Russia.
This trip took three days and nights. Sometimes they progressed a few meters in half a day, there was a shortage of food, water, fuel… During times of distress, those taking advantage of the situation appeared and began to sell basic consumer goods at exorbitant prices, but without a choice the caravan members had to use their services.
Exhausted, but ultimately happy Yevgeny Katz crossed the border and arrived in Georgia on October 1st!
From there, after several days of recovery after a tiring journey, he boarded a plane to Israel. He finally was free in the Jewish state! The rescue mission for him ended successfully, but he still had to worry about how to get his family there.
Yevgeny had come to Israel as a tourist because he did not have time to obtain an aliyah visa for himself and had to go through the process in Israel. His family had to go through all the approvals in Russia and they received an entry visa through the Israeli consulate in Moscow, all through the organization in Israel of course.
For about a month Yevgeny would live alone, first in the city of Rehovot with his friends, then with his wife’s relatives until the family’s arrival in the Galilee.
Now, they live in a rented apartment in the city, a spacious apartment, which according to Yevgeni was excellent and very suitable for them, but it was almost empty. Here, too, Shavei Israel came to their aid and in a short time provided them with basic electrical goods: a refrigerator, a stove, a washing machine and a microwave. Something that helped them a lot especially in the first period.
Currently Svetlana continues to study Hebrew in the studio, Yevgeny after a few months of language studies decided to invest his time in working for the welfare of the family. He is now working at the UCT Fluid Solution factory in the Tziporit industrial area near the city and the children go to school.
The absorption, according to Yevgeny and Svetlana, is going smoothly and they are very satisfied especially with the integration of the children. Beyond the school framework, their younger son participates in the soccer club and has already joined the advanced team there. Despite his young age, he plays among the children who are several years older than him and is very satisfied.
Kira, the eldest daughter, also had time to achieve good results in the field of tennis, despite their short time in Israel. In fact, Kira’s picture has already appeared in a local Russian newspaper.
Yevgeny is proud of the fact that he even managed to buy a private car, albeit second-hand and not so new, but it gave them a boost in everything related to their quality of life and they use the car at every opportunity to travel around the country.
In their upcoming plan, Svetlana will successfully complete the studio, Yevgeny will continue to work and hopes to receive a promotion in the future. He also wants to take courses in Hebrew to make up for his lack of language skills. Both are very happy with their integration in the country of their heritage!