Every time I visit Israel, I see something I’ve never seen before. While there are sites such as the Kotel, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Master’s cave in the Galilee that I feel must be a pilgrimage each time I travel to Israel, there is just too much to see to not visit some places for the first time.
My trip to Israel last month with my family was no different. I visited for the first time, among other things, the museum at David’s Citadel, the water caves at Rosh HaNikrah, and the Ammunition Hill Memorial.
But perhaps the most intriguing new site that I visited was the Dubrovin farm. It’s located about a thirty-minute drive north from the Sea of Galilee in the town of Yesod HaMa’ala. The farm is a museum and restaurant dedicated to preserving the life and memory of the Dubrovin family that lived there.
What is exciting about the Dubrovin family is that they were part of a group of Christians in Russia called the Subbotniks. The Subbotniks (meaning “people of the Sabbath”) were a break-off group from the Russian Orthodox Church. They observed a seventh-day Shabbat and also faithfully observed the laws of Torah. I wrote an article about them in Messiah Journal 115, which, while researching for it, led me to the discovery of the farm and museum. In turn, here at the Dubrovin Farm was a memory of these proto-Messianic Gentiles and their work in pioneering the State of Israel. It was inspiring to me to see all that they endured to help cultivate the land and further the Jewish State.
The Dubrovin family immigrated to Israel from Russia in 1904, and purchased the land and built the farm in 1909. The family, headed by the father Yoav Dubrovin, were farmers who created a model farm with a well. The estate itself contained gardens and fruit orchards. The farm was located in close proximity to the Huleh swamp, which was a breeding ground for mosquitos and malaria. It took a toll on not only the Dubrovins but also all the farmers in the area. Eventually, to avoid the continuing malaria epidemic, Yoav moved to Rosh Pinah and left the farm and the estate to his son Itzhak. In 1968, Itzhak donated the farm to the Jewish National Fund, which eventually reconstructed the farm and turned it into a museum in 1986. The museum educates visitors about farming life during the pioneering days of the turn of the century.
The Subbotniks as a whole were extremely dedicated to the Messianic Era and the restoration of Israel, which led them to believe that Messiah’s arrival was imminent and that they needed to emigrate to Israel to be ready for Messiah’s coming. Around the end of the nineteenth century they sent envoys to the land and sought to set up communities there. Although many of them were never able to carry out their dream of aliyah, some were. In fact, the Subbotniks were among the earliest settlers in the Galilee, and the Dubrovin Farm stands as a witness to this.
In line with the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Subbotniks believed that when Messiah returned, he would destroy Israel’s enemies and establish the Jewish people once again in the promised land. The Subbotniks also believed that they would receive territory and privileges within the land of Israel as well. They viewed themselves as fulfilling the role of biblical prophecy preparing the way for the Messiah and rebirth of the Jewish State:
And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant. (Deuteronomy 6:10-11)
Thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, I will lift up my hand to the nations, and raise my signal to the peoples; and they shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders. Kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you, and lick the dust of your feet. Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who wait for me shall not be put to shame. (Isaiah 49:22-23)
Thus says the LORD: "Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil. Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, "The LORD will surely separate me from his people” … And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Isaiah 56:1-7)
As I walked through the museum and farm I was a little disheartened to learn that, like many of their fellow Subbotniks, the Dubrovin family eventually converted to become legally Jewish. Yet, at the same time this was understandable. They were persecuted heavily by the Christian church. Unlike today, where there is much more dialogue and tolerance about the Torah observance of Yeshua and what his Jewishness means to both his Jewish and Gentile disciples, the Subbotniks were far ahead of their time and operated in an era of strict dogmatism and intolerance. It would have been difficult for them to be accepted in the religious Jewish community they joined in Israel if they were not viewed as Jewish.
In turn, as I wrote at the end of my Subbotniks article in Messiah Journal, there are many lessons to learn from the Subbotniks and I feel that their eventual conversion is a cautionary tale about the dangers of a low Christology, One Law theology, and not having a firm understanding of the coming kingdom of heaven. However, at the Dubrovin farm I felt I was connecting with Gentile believers from the past who sought to return to the lifestyle of the earliest Gentile disciples of Yeshua. While they eventually took things too far, I am still inspired by their zeal and their love for the Jewish people and the land of Israel.