Interwar Latvia’s Great Hasidic Politician

August 30, 2018 | Dovid Margolin
About the author: Dovid Margolin is a senior editor at, where he writes on Jewish life around the world, with a particular interest in Russian Jewish history.

In Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia between the two world wars, Jewish political parties won seats in national parliaments, local governments, and even cabinets. One of the leading Jewish politicians in Latvia at the time was Mordechai Dubin, a devout Chabad-Lubavitch Ḥasid whose career was documented in a Russian-language memoir published in 2000. In the introduction to his translation of the memoir—now available online—Dovid Margolin writes:

Dubin was a statesman, diplomat, and powerbroker in interwar Latvia, whose influence and impact were felt widely within the Jewish world. At the height of his public career, he walked the corridors of power with a bearing seldom seen in a Jewish lay leader. He was the founder and leader of the traditionalist Agudath Israel political party in Latvia, but represented Jews far beyond his natural base and served as a uniquely inclusive chairman of the Riga Jewish community.

In life and death [Dubin] was lauded by both his closest allies and most bitter political opponents for his proactive willingness to help anyone—especially his fellow Jews—at any time, and in any place, and for the great efficacy of his assistance. . . . He was also popularly regarded as the “unofficial foreign secretary of the realm of Lubavitch.” . . . When he visited the United States in 1929-30, he had a private meeting with President Herbert Hoover in the White House, something few Latvian politicians could ever hope for. And yet his story ended tragically; his wife and daughter-in-law perished in the Riga ghetto, his son in a Nazi camp, and he, years later, died destitute and alone in Soviet captivity. . . .

Mordechai Dubin was born in 1889 in the city of Riga, Latvia, to Shneur Zalman Ber and Rivkah Rokhl Dubin. The family had seven children, four sons and three daughters, Mordechai being the second-oldest son. [His father], a successful timber merchant, was among the first Russian Jews to settle in Latvia and helped found a number of synagogues, Jewish charities, ḥeders, and schools that contributed to the development of Jewish life in Latvia in general and the religious community in Riga in particular. . . .

Dubin had a traditional Jewish education, studying only religious subjects until the age of sixteen . . . He was nevertheless educated in worldly matters, and, for example, was the only Jewish communal activist to have mastered the Latvian language, [which few Jews spoke at all prior to 1918, and most Jews of Dubin’s generation never learned with much proficiency], from the start of his public career.