Life for Jews in 19th century Russia wasn't exactly milk and honey. We previously discussed the Pale of Settlement, which restricted where Jews could live. That was just the tip of the iceberg.
Czar Nicholas I made military service mandatory for every seven out of 100 Jewish boys. They would be called into the army at the age of TWELVE and serve for a period of TWENTY FIVE years. Now, one might say that seven is not exactly a high percentage... but would you ever want to risk that with your child?
So, as much as we frown on conversion in most circumstances, we understand it here. This is what 35 members of the Rubinstein family did in 1831.
Anton Rubinstein was not even two at the time. With military no longer an option, his parents did as any responsible Jews (converted or not): made him take piano lessons. Anton proved to be a virtuoso, and grew up to be considered one of the greatest piano players of all time. In 1862, Rubinstein opened the first Russian music conservatory. Among his students was one Peter Tchaikovsky.
Later in life, Rubinstein became an atheist, which made the whole conversion moot. As for Jews of Russia, well...
It didn't get much better after the 19th century.