ICEJ Expands Efforts to Bring Ukrainian Jews to IsraelPublished on: 11.3.2022
By: David Parsons, ICEJ VP & Senior Int. Spokesman
As the brutal Russian shelling of Ukrainian cities continues, a massive operation is well underway to evacuate thousands of endangered Jews from the war-torn country and bring them to safety in Israel. The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem is at the center of the action, helping to fund the Jewish Agency For Israel’s urgent rescue and Aliyah efforts, while also engaging in parallel activities on the ground in Ukraine and neighboring countries, as well as assisting Ukrainian Jews who have already reached Israel.
Speaking on the ICEJ’s weekly webinar on Thursday, Roman Polonsky, the Jewish Agency ’s coordinator for the former Soviet Republics and Eastern Europe, said that over 1,000 Ukrainian Jewish immigrants arrived in Israel this week. But he added that thousands more are still making their way into neighboring countries, being housed and processed for immigration, and waiting for flights to Israel. He also said JAFI expects as many as 15,000 Ukrainian Jews to make Aliyah by the end of this year, with possibly even larger numbers coming from Russia due to the faltering economy there.
“This is a women’s Aliyah right now,” said Polonsky. “It is heart-breaking to see so many mothers and wives arriving without the men, who had to stay behind to defend Ukraine.”
The Jewish Agency has opened two main routes for handling this mass Aliyah, Polonsky explained. One goes through Poland and Hungary, and one through Moldova and Romania. They have rented 4,000 beds in these countries to house people until they are ready to move on to Israel. He added that JAFI is having to hire many extra guards, because there are so many dangers and much looting right now along these routes of travel.
Polonsky shared several touching stories he encountered while constantly shuttling between Warsaw and Budapest this week. One involved two young Jewish sisters, aged 12 and 13, who had stood for twelve hours on an over-crowded train to reach Poland. The cabin car they were in normally seats 40 people, but it was crammed with some 400 fleeing refugees. The young girls were travelling alone, as their mother had to stay behind in Ukraine to take care of her aging parents. The sisters were met by the local Israeli ambassador, and they will arrive in Israel in coming days.
He also had an incredible encounter with Esther, a 67 year-old Ukrainian Jewish woman who made her way to Warsaw by herself and went straight to the airport to buy an airline ticket to Israel. But when the ticketing agent asked for $500, she said she had no money. Desperate, she tried calling an Israeli telephone number she had been given to inquire about moving to Israel, but could not get through. So, she prayed to the Lord for help, and then asked a passing gentleman if he could help her place the call. He recognized it was an Israeli number and asked what she needed. “To make Aliyah,” she replied. That gentleman happened to be Roman Polonsky himself, the person in charge of Aliyah for all of the FSU and Eastern Europe, and God had immediately answered her prayer in the best way possible.
Besides the funds we are channeling through JAFI to support the overall Ukrainian rescue and Aliyah operation, the Christian Embassy also has launched a number of supplementary efforts to help the cause. For example:
ICEJ-Ukraine national director Valeriy Alymov and his church are operating under difficult conditions in the capital Kyiv to shelter and feed hundreds of Jews and Christians in underground facilities, offering them beds, blankets, food, clothing and other relief aid.
ICEJ-Romania national director Pavel Antonesi and his team have hired a bus and several vans to transport Ukrainian Jews who have fled to Moldova and carry them over to Bucharest for temporary stays while they apply with the Jewish Agency to immigrate to Israel. On Thursday, their first convoy of Jewish refugees left Kishinev and crossed over into Romania. Pavel reports that there are currently hundreds of Ukrainian Jews stranded in the Moldavan capital, and with our assistance he can help get them to safety in Romania and then onward to the Jewish homeland.
ICEJ-Finland national director Jani Salokangas will arrive with a team in Poland on Friday to deliver a ton of relief aid requested by the Chief Rabbi of Warsaw to help the local Jewish community care for scores of Ukrainian Jewish refugees who have taken shelter with them. The Finnish team will remain in Poland for several days to assist war refugees and deliver more relief aid where needed. ICEJ-Finland also will continue to assist Russian Jews heading for Israel along the St. Petersburg-Helsinki route, which is expected to see a sharp increase of immigrants in coming months.
The ICEJ is working with JAFI and an Israeli charitable partner on the ground in Ukraine to identify and evacuate Holocaust survivors to safety, sponsor their flights to Israel, and help with assisting them once they are here. JAFI is giving Holocaust survivors priority and expediting their Aliyah to bring them straight to Israel. We already have a group of 27 Holocaust survivors en route out of Ukraine and 10 more are packing their belongings. Some may take up residence in the Christian Embassy’s assisted-living Home for Holocaust survivors in Haifa.
The ICEJ in Jerusalem will be assisting the 90 Jewish children from a Chabad orphanage in the Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr who were welcomed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at Ben-Gurion Airport on Sunday. The Jewish National Fund is providing temporary housing and food for the youths, aged 2 to 12, and the ICEJ is exploring practical ways to support their future growth as orphaned children and help them adjust to living in Israel.
Finally, the Yad Rosa emergency call centers for Holocaust survivors which the ICEJ sponsors in Jerusalem and Haifa will now be connected to the Jewish Agency’s special hotline number recently set up for Ukrainian and Russian Jews to inquire about making Aliyah. Additional volunteers who speak Ukrainian and Russian have already come forward to help staff the Yad Rosa call centers. This was done at the urging of Prime Minister Bennett to help JAFI handle the high volume of calls now being received on their hotline. Since the hotline was set up about two weeks ago, it has already received over 16,000 calls, including nearly 7,000 calls inquiring about making Aliyah to Israel.
So, here is your chance to be part of an urgent, historic and even prophetic wave of Aliyah. Please give your best gift today to help support our expanding efforts to evacuate Jews from Ukraine and bring them home safely to Israel.