Subbotnik Jews celebrate Tu B’Shvat in Israel

Subbotnik Jews celebrate Tu B’Shvat in Israel

Starfruit and strawberries for Tu B'Shvat

Starfruit and strawberries for Tu B’Shvat

Tu B’Shvat – the Jewish holiday familiar to every Israeli from kindergarten on up as the “New Year for the Trees” – is not so well known among the Subbotnik Jewish community of Russia. So, on January 15, 2014, Shavei Israel sponsored a festive Tu B’Shvat party for the Subbotnik Jews who live in the Land of Israel. Held in Beit Shemesh – where the majority of the community is based – there were plenty of fruits and nuts: dried apricots and figs; various shapes and colors of olives; almonds, cashews, cranberries, strawberries, and even some decoratively cut up star fruit.

Some 30 people attended the party, which was hosted by Rabbi Zelig Avrasin, Shavei Israel’s emissary to the community (who was in Israel for the holiday) and Esther Surikova, head of Shavei’s Russian and Eastern European department.

In the early 19th century, under the rule of Czar Alexander I, thousands of mostly Russian peasants in the town of Vysoky 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.

To prepare for the holiday, Shavei Israel created a brand new Tu B’Shvat booklet, including articles on the laws and meaning of the day, recipes of traditional dishes, and a list of questions suitable for a quiz. Hundreds of copies were printed; half were distributed in Israel and the other half were sent to the community in Russia.

As part of the party, the Subbotnik Jews in Beit Shemesh received an update from Rabbi Avrasin on the construction of the new synagogue in Vysoky, for which Shavei Israel together with the local community is providing some financial assistance. We wrote about the synagogue project here – it’s the first new synagogue for the community in nearly 100 years. We are still taking donations to raise $60,000 as part of this special “building fund” – please visit the Support page on our website to make your contribution.

We have a new batch of pictures from Vysoky here.

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And here are pictures from the Tu B’Shvat party itself.

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Jeremy Zauder