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Dubin, Mordekhai

(1889–1956), Lubavitch activist, leader of Agudas Yisroel in Latvia, and politician. A lumber merchant by trade, Mordekhai Dubin began at a young age to devote himself to community service. He gained wide popularity within Latvian Jewry for his work in interceding with the authorities on behalf of individual Jews or Jewish institutions. Starting with the founding National Assembly, Dubin represented Agudas Yisroel in all the legislative bodies of democratic Latvia, from the Constituent Assembly of 1920–1922 to the four Seimas (diets) elected between 1922 and 1934. He also served on the Riga city council, and was one of the founders of the reorganized Riga kehilah, which he chaired. Dubin was recognized as a leader of the world Agudas Yisroel movement, despite the generally limited, often hostile relations between Lubavitch and Aguda.

Known as the “shtadlan [intercessor] par excellence,” Dubin used his parliamentary base to seek justice for all Jews, and many of them, in turn, supported Dubin and Agudas Yisroel. As a member of the budget committee, he fought for allocations for all Jewish schools and cultural institutions, including secular schools and theaters. He was particularly active in acquiring Latvian citizenship for Jews, many of them native-born, whom the authorities nevertheless regarded as stateless. As his major political tactic, Dubin advocated a political alliance with the Latvian center and right-wing parties. He reasoned that the left would always support the downtrodden or persecuted, while the generally antisemitic right would grant concessions to Jews or redress grievances only in exchange for political support. His opponents roundly denounced these tactics, but Dubin maintained that pleading for individuals was the only feasible method for Jews facing bureaucratic or legal discrimination.

In 1927, Dubin was instrumental in securing an exit visa from the Soviet Union for the spiritual leader of Lubavitch Hasidism, Yosef Yitsḥak Shneerson. Dubin successfully used as leverage in his negotiations the desire of the Soviets to sign a trade pact with Latvia.

Because of his long-term good relations with center and right-wing parties, Dubin retained a good deal of influence even after the installation of the authoritarian regime under Kārlis Ulmanis in 1934. The new regime favored Dubin and his party and consulted with him on matters concerning Jewish education and culture. Dubin continued his intercessionary work and is credited with convincing Ulmanis to keep Latvia’s borders open to Jewish refugees from Germany.

With the Soviet takeover of Latvia in 1940, Dubin was arrested, along with other Jewish political leaders, the main charge against him being his close relations with the Ulmanis regime. Released in July or August 1942, he made his way to Kuibyshev, where he lived in the kitchen of the apartment of the local shoḥet (kosher slaughterer). Dubin’s family members left in Riga were killed during the Nazi occupation. In 1946, Dubin returned for a short time to Riga but out of fear of arrest moved back to Moscow. He was rearrested numerous times in 1948–1949 and eventually received a long prison term. Details of his death are unclear, but he appears to have died in a prison camp or prisoners’ psychiatric hospital near Moscow.

Suggested Reading

Mendel Bobe, “Mordekhai Dubin (‘Eser shanim li-fetirato),” He-‘Avar 14 (1967): 250–261; Binyamin Eliav, Mendel Bobe, and A. Kremer, eds., Yahadut Latviyah: Sefer zikaron (Tel Aviv, 1952/53), passim; Andrew Ezergailis, The Holocaust in Latvia, 1941–1944: The Missing Center (Washington, D.C., 1996), pp. 66–68, 77; A. A. Gershuni, Yahadut be-Rusyah ha-Sovietit: Le-Korot redifot ha-dat (Jerusalem, 1960/61), pp. 204–207; Yosef Yitsḥak Schneersohn, Igrot kodesh, vol. 1, pp. 613–614 (Brooklyn, 1982), letter no. 338.