By: Anastasiya Gooding

In recent weeks, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has welcomed a total of 127 SELA students from Russian-speaking countries who arrived in Israel with our assistance, including 105 who came on ICEJ-sponsored flights. These Jewish students are now preparing to begin their university studies in Israel, and the Christian Embassy has supported many of them ever since they first started participating in pre-Aliyah summer camps at the age of 10. So, we were thrilled to see them finally reach the Jewish homeland after so many years of hope and preparations.

There is a whole process these students must undertake from the moment they decide to join the SELA program offered by The Jewish Agency For Israel. It often starts with Aliyah weekends and summer camps, when the young people and their parents are familiarized with JAFI’s special Youth Aliyah programs which prepare them for their eventual move to Israel. They later take tests which identify the brightest and best students for admittance to Israel’s top universities. Throughout this process, the ICEJ is actively involved in a variety of ways.

This summer, for instance, the ICEJ supported three large Aliyah summer camps with 257 participants in Siberia. They were held outside of major Siberian cities which are well known for their large Jewish communities which have been significant sources for the ongoing Aliyah from Russia.

Aliyah camps have proven to be the most effective way of introducing these Russian Jewish children to Israel and telling them about the Youth Aliyah initiatives available to them, such as the NAALE and SELA programs which the Christian Embassy has been supporting for more than 15 years. These programs are a major steppingstone in the Aliyah process for these families, as the youths receive the resources and training they will need to come to Israel to live on their own, study, learn Hebrew and get settled ahead of their parents’ arrival.

One recent highlight from the Aliyah camps occurred when some NAALE students returned to Siberia on vacation after a couple years in Israel and shared their experience of studying and living in Israel. This inspired many more Jewish children to also join the program.

Eva Friedman, a 15-year-old NAALE student, recounted that “the children were interested to know what kind of teachers we have, what they feed us in Israel, what kind of uniform we wear, and how we do recess. I shared my experience with the other children who are planning to go to study next year.”

Yana Marants, who has been studying in Israel for three years now on a special Youth Aliyah program, related her own success story.

“Once, during Aliyah camp, I decided to take the NAALE tests. I am very glad that I tried it and was so excited I passed,” said Yana. “This year I shared my personal experience with the new children. I think it is very important to learn about the programs not only through descriptions and presentations, but also to hear real stories.”

Rustam Ishmatov, an 18-year-old Aliyah camp mentor, added his take on the value of the Aliyah camps.

“I am glad that through the camps children have the opportunity to get acquainted with the Youth Aliyah programs, to immerse themselves in the culture, and learn about the way of life in Israel. I think it is important to learn about the peculiarities of the country, and personally communicate with the madrich (camp mentors) from Israel,” he concluded.

These wonderful students will surely make many positive contributions to Israel in coming years. So, help us as we enable these Jewish youths to return to the Land of their ancestors and build a brighter future here in Israel.