Rabbi Shlomo Zelig Avrasin has been appointed as the new emissary of the Shavei Israel organization to the Subbotnik Jews of Russia.
His mission, which will begin during Hanukkah, will focus primarily on the community of Vysoky in southern Russia and will include teaching Hebrew and Judaism, organizing prayer services and conducting a range of diverse educational activities for the Subbotnik Jewish youth.
Rabbi Shlomo Zelig Avrasin, 39, was born in Lugansk (formerly Voroshilovgrad) in southeastern Ukraine. He now resides in Efrat, Israel,
is married with five children and is a Lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces. He is a graduate of the Amiel Institute, which trains rabbis and educators to serve in Jewish communities abroad, and is also certified as a Shochet, or Jewish ritual slaughterer.
“The dispatch of Rabbi Shlomo Zelig Avrasin as Shavei Israel's new emissary is a result of the expansion of our activities aimed at assisting the Subbotnik Jews of Russia,” Shavei Israel Chairman and Founder Michael Freund said.
“For two centuries, the Subbotniks Jews clung to their Jewishness despite Czarist oppression and Communist persecution. We cannot and must not turn our backs on the remnants of this community after all that they have endured. Otherwise, they will assimilate and disappear as Jews, and for that history would never forgive us.”
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.
Beginning with 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.
There are believed to be approximately 20,000 Subbotnik Jews still living in the former Soviet Union. Over the past decade, a large number made Aliyah, especially from the southern Russian villages of Ilyinka and Vysoky, and many of them now live in Beit Shemesh outside of Jerusalem.