Ariel and Moriah Shishlenikov, residents of the southern Russian village of Vysoky, have left behind the members of their community – the Subbotniks – and immigrated to Israel.
Video and editing: Gabi Newman (צילום ועריכה: גבי נוימן)
"This is the first couple, the harbinger, out of a group of some 400-500 people left in the town," says Rabbi Zelig Avrasin, the Shavei Israel organization's emissary to Russia.
They have been Italian for generations, but alongside Catholic roots – Jewish roots are being revealed, as well as 500-year-old Torah scroll, Shema Yisrael prayer found by chance in basement. What makes hundreds of people dig into their lives?
"About 200 years ago, peasants in southern Russia decided with great courage to embrace Judaism and converted," says Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund. "In spite of the persecution they suffered under the czar, the Nazis and the Communists, the Subbotniks stuck to their Judaism and live as Jews till this very day."
Quite a few of the Subbotnik Jews immigrated to Israel throughout the 20th century, but many of them remained in their homeland. Over time, some of the Subbotniks who stayed in Russia began drawing away from the religion adopted by their forefathers.
In recent years, the Shavei Israel organization decided to help anyone interested in sticking to Judaism and immigrating to the Promised Land."
"After all, they survived extremely harsh persecution over their loyalty to the Law of Moses. Now, when they are distress, how can we – as the Jewish people or as the State of Israel – turn our backs on them and not help them?" asks Freund.