Ukrainian Jews spend last Shabbat in Ukraine

By: Annaliese Johnson

After a record year for Aliyah in 2022, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has begun the new year by funding Aliyah rescue flights for nearly 600 Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics. ICEJ will ramp up its ground operations in a number of these countries to provide ground transportation, assistance with aliyah preparation, visa support, and airport transfers, as well as assisting new immigrants with urgent and immediate integration needs.

The Jewish Agency for Israel is projecting that 2023 will be another record year for Aliyah, and the ICEJ will be there to do our part, just as we have been doing since our founding in 1980.

In the Christian Embassy’s first year of operations, Finnish Christians began volunteering to assist Jews from the Soviet Union to make Aliyah and start new lives in Israel. Other European Christians in our movement soon joined in, providing humanitarian aid to Soviet Jewish families in transit and awaiting final immigration papers in Vienna, Austria. Later, even before the Soviet Union started to collapse in 1989, ICEJ-Finland began assisting Russian Jews with their journey from Russia through Finland by bus to Israel via the Helsinki airport.

As the mass exodus of Soviet Jewry continued well into the 1990s, ICEJ supporters opened other Aliyah assistance programs, including the Raoul Wallenberg Center in Budapest, Hungary, which provided a safe house and way station for hundreds of Ukrainian Jews on their way to the Promised Land. Our first sponsored flights were from Budapest beginning in 1990.

Since the corona pandemic broke out in 2020, the ICEJ has partnered with the Jewish Agency to sponsor Aliyah flights for over 5,000 olim (new immigrants) as they have made their way home to Israel. For many of these new immigrants, this journey represents hope and the opportunity to escape difficult and even dangerous circumstances, such as wars, famine, persecution and other hardships. As one recent immigrant from Ukraine expressed, the constant rocket fire from Russian forces last year was a “living hell”, and they were extremely grateful to reach safer shores.

In 2022, there was an average of one full planeload of Jewish immigrants arriving daily in Israel for six days a week over 50 straight weeks, for a total of nearly 75,000 newcomers. More than 62,000 of these olim were from Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, representing 83% of all new immigrants to Israel last year.

Because of the war in Ukraine and the resulting political and economic uncertainty in neighboring countries, last year saw a 383% jump in Aliyah from the year before. Whereas 12,958 Russian-speaking Jews moved to Israel in 2021, a total of 62,569 arrived in 2022. JAFI officials fully expect to see the current surge in Aliyah requests from these countries to continue well into 2023, as many Jewish families are desperately working towards leaving before the rules for emigrating could change in their countries. Thanks to our faithful Christian supporters worldwide, the ICEJ is ready to assist them on their journey home to Israel.

For our Aliyah efforts in Ukraine, we are aiding with flights, ground transport and accommodations as Jewish families flee war-torn areas. The ICEJ was able to help rescue over a thousand immigrants in 2022 from the dreadful conflict ravaging Ukraine, and our flights will continue to take place in this difficult situation, lifting Jews out of a dark, cold winter into the bright future of a new life here in Israel. As the prophet Zechariah once warned: “’Come! Come! Flee from the land of the north,’ declares the Lord…” (Zechariah 2:6).

An exciting new opportunity also has opened for the ICEJ in the Baltic states, where we are sponsoring all the Aliyah flights in 2023 from this region, which has a rich Jewish heritage. This includes assisting with all the JAFI events connected with Aliyah, such as summer and winter camps, seminars, Jewish holiday event and much more. We already flew 57 Jewish immigrants from the Baltic region in January, and 50 more will be arriving in Israel in the coming weeks.

Ethiopian Aliyah sisters arrive in Israel

Meanwhile, the Ethiopian Aliyah has resumed, with two flights from Addis Ababa landing recently with 124 Jews on board. The ICEJ will continue to play a central role in this unique Jewish community’s historic journey home. In fact, the Christian Embassy has sponsored flights for over 3,000 Ethiopian Jewish immigrants since 2011. The biggest year was 2017, when we sponsored the homecoming of 1,116 Jews from Ethiopia to Israel.

The ICEJ has been involved in the Ethiopian Aliyah since 1992, when we provided a mobile clinic and as well as an Amharic-speaking doctor to treat newly arrived Ethiopian immigrants with special medical needs. These were Ethiopian Jews who had somehow endured severe famine, plagues and civil war to reunite with the Jewish people in their ancient homeland.

Every year brings new challenges and opportunities, and new immigrants to Israel. We can clearly see God’s hand at work as He continues to regather the dispersed Jewish exiles from the four corners of the earth and plant them back in the Land of Israel, just as He promised in His word. Indeed, the Lord told Jeremiah: “Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.” (Jeremiah 32:41)

As Christians from the nations, we have a biblical invitation to help in this great prophetic Ingathering, an invite issued thousands of years ago through Isaiah: “Thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, I will lift My hand in an oath to the nations, and set up My standard for the peoples; They shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.’” (Isaiah 49:22)

May the Lord bless you for responding to this prophetic summons to be involved in the promised Return of Israel to her biblical homeland. Please consider a generous gift to help us bring more Jews on Aliyah rescue flights and resettle them in Israel in 2023.
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Photo credits: JAFI